See part 1 of the set review here: Hour of Devastation CELF-Test Review (Part 1 – Mechanics, Mana and Removal)
A small set changes the distribution of cards in a pack and draft. With fewer cards in the set, we’ll see more duplicate copies of cards in a draft on average. Let’s look at a few numbers.
First, the set is 184 cards: 12 mythics, 42 rares, 60 uncommons, 70 commons.
A specific card will be opened at the following rates:
A more useful way to look at this, is that an average booster contains 0.16 copies of every common and 0.05 copies of every uncommon. That means in an 8-person draft, with 16 packs of Hour of Devastation, you can expect to see, on average, this many copies of every card in the set:
Draft Pod Open Rates
Commons: ~2.7 copies of each common
Uncommons: ~0.8 copies of each uncommon
[Note this compares to ~2.4 copies of each common and ~0.9 copies of each uncommon in a triple Amonkhet draft pod. The larger card pool makes it less likely for a specific card to be in a pack but that is offset by drafting with 24 total packs of the set. I had never heard this before, but it looks like the large set / small set sizes are intended to balance the number of expected copies of each card in their respective draft formats.]
For a 2-color deck, that means the average draft pod will open 1.6 uncommon deserts and 5.4 common deserts for a total of ~7
on color deserts. Chances are that they won’t all make it into your draft pile, but this gives an idea for how available they might be. This ignores the colorless deserts because it’s hard to find room for too many colorless lands in a deck.
If deserts get equally distributed among all 8 players in a draft pod, each player will end up with ~2.2 deserts. That means if your deck really wants deserts, you’ll have to make an effort to draft them. It also means to me that the desert-matters cards need to be playable on their own because you won’t typically get enough deserts to always have one in play.
A format’s speed will be dictated by what curves look like in the early turns of the game. To that end, let’s look at the 1, 2 and 3 drops in the format. Usually the 2-drops will be the most important here. The 1-drops are usually unplayable and can be ignored, but I’ll include them for completeness. Cards like Trial of Solidarity and Overcome do give you a reason to get more bodies onto the board early.
[Edit: I used Gatherer for my card searching and it was brought to my attention that some cards listed are not part of the main set and are therefore not part of the limited format. I’ve removed Wasp of the Bitter End and Avid Reclaimer. Sorry for the confusion.]
Common God-Pharaoh’s Faithful
Common Proven Combatant
Common Frilled Sandwalla
The 1-drops here don’t look great. I think the 0/4 is unplayable since it doesn’t actually stop Afflict creatures very well. It could be a sideboard card against GW aggro which doesn’t have afflict and does have a number of 3-power attackers. Proven Combatant looks only useful as a carrier for -1/-1 counters. You have to play it for some specific synergy since playing it just for its Eternalize value doesn’t seem great; a 4/4 vanilla for 6 is not worth a slot. I don’t see many ways to take advantage of a 1/1 body, so I don’t expect to play it. It’s a sideboard card if the opponent has a lot of aggressive x/1 creatures. Frilled Sandwalla may be OK, and is the best of these, but I don’t like having to dump mana into it to have a 3/3. It will chip in for damage in early turns before turning into a small mana sink, but by then a 3/3 may not be very impressive.
Common Mummy Paramount, Oketra’s Avenger
Uncommon Steward of Solidarity
The commons here are designed to attack and they both are likely to attack for 3 in the early turns. The uncommon is a more flexible bear for all decks with a go-wide ability.
Common Cunning Survivor, Spellweaver Eternal
Blue gets one defensive 2-drop and one aggressive 2-drop. The cycling-matters card is clearly best for UB which means the other colors will have to want the aggressive 2-drop or nothing.
Common Khenra Eternal, Ruin Rat, Wretched Camel
Uncommon Vile Manifestation
It stands out that 3 of the 5 options here are 1-toughness. The aggressive options here all attack for just 2 (one with evasion). I’d normally say the rat is the best common here but the vanilla 2/2 is likely better because it fits better in black’s aggressive game plan and has a relevant creature type. I don’t think deserts will be common enough to turn on the Camel’s ability in the critical early turns of the game so I don’t like this card. The Vile Manifestation looks like another really strong payoff for UB.
Common Defiant Khenra, Firebrand Archer
Uncommon Burning-Fist Minotaur
The Khenra looks like a generically good aggro card. The Archer likely only has a home in a UR tempo/spells deck. There aren’t enough spells in most decks for me to want to lose a point of toughness, but I could see a UR deck making good use of this with the more aggressive blue creatures and Unsummon. The Minotaur is much harder to deal with in combat and is the only 2-drop we’ve seen that can attack through a 4-toughness blocker (except for the evasion from Wasp of the Bitter End and Rhonas’s Stalwart).
Common Feral Prowler, Rhonas’s Stalwart
Uncommon Hope Tender
The stalwart is the best common 2-drop, maybe in all the colors, attacking for 3 with evasion. You’ll need a 3-power creature of your own to trade with it. The Prowler though looks like a great defensive 2-drop that blocks well and gets value eventually. This is the second playable common 1/3 we’ve seen, which makes me even more skeptical of 2/1s like Wretched Camel and Firebrand Archer. The archer probably has a better shot since the blockers are still easily dealt with by Unsummon or Open Fire.
Uncommon River Hoopoe
Another 2-mana 1/3. This card looks quite strong with an evasive body, good blocking stats for a 2-drop and an excellent late-game ability. The question is how good UG will be but we saw a number of ramp creatures/spells which indicate UGx might be a viable ramp strategy.
Common Wall of Forgotten Pharaohs
I’d avoid this. The ability is mostly irrelevant and as I’ve said, I don’t want an 0/4 as my blocker in this format.
No single color has access to significantly more 2-drops than the others. Black does have the most, but they fill roles in different decks. The evasive 2-drops are all uncommons except for Rhonas’s Stalwart which might make blocking more realistic than in Amonkhet. Against the stats presented here, Dune Beetle looks better than it did before. Still, the issue with blocking in Amonkhet wasn’t all about stats – cards like Ahn-Crop Crasher and Cartouches took blockers out of combat entirely.
An aggro deck wants to front-load the curve with as many 2-drops as they can. Removing the defensive creatures from the list above, here’s how many aggressive 2-drops each color can expect to see out of the Hour of Devastation packs in a draft.
Average number of aggro 2-drops per draft pod
White: 6.2 (2 commons + 1 uncommon)
Blue: 2.7 (1 common)
Black: 8.9 (3 commons + 1 uncommon)
Red: 6.2 (2 commons + 1 uncommon)
Green: 3.5 (1 common + 1 uncommon)
Average number of aggro 2-drops per pod, per player
(Note: An average of 3.2 drafters per color if uniformly distributed)
White: 1.9 (2 commons + 1 uncommon)
Blue: 0.8 (1 common)
Black: 2.8 (3 commons + 1 uncommon)
Red: 1.9 (2 commons + 1 uncommon)
Green: 1.1 (1 common + 1 uncommon)
Common Dauntless Aven, Disposal Mummy, Solitary Camel
Uncommon Sunscourge Champion
Based on the 2-drops, white wants to be aggressive. But here, half of the 3-drops have greater toughness than power. Dauntless Aven is a nice evasive threat that has synergy with Exert and the untap ability helps race well by making more blockers available. There’s also some incidental life-gain on two creatures which makes racing seem like white’s strength.
Common Aerial Guide, Seer of the Last Tomorrow
Uncommon Eternal of Harsh Truths, Sinuous Striker
Aerial Guide is a really impressive beater that plays poor defense. An evasive threat that jumps other creatures looks very strong. The Seer is a nice size and I liked the ability as a win condition until I realized you have to discard to activate it – with that additional cost I don’t think this card is very good. The uncommons in blue are both interesting and look versatile. The Harsh Truths fits right in with a potential UR tempo deck we’ve mentioned.
Common Grisly Survivor, Marauding Boneslasher, Moaning Wall
Uncommon Banewhip Punisher, Merciless Eternal
All of these black 3-drops are good except for Moaning Wall. Grisly Survivor is best paired with red or blue, Marauding Boneslasher of course is at its best with white but less narrow than the Survivor if you plan on attacking anyway.
Common Khenra Scrapper, Thorned Moloch
Uncommon Fervent Paincaster
Both commons are very nice aggressive 3-drops. The Scrapper is better, but the Moloch offers yet another piece for a UR tempo spells deck. The Paincaster attacks well as a 3/1 with a relevant late game ability to give an aggro deck some reach, but will the 1 toughness be too vulnerable? I think not, and it should be a good 3-drop for most red decks.
Common Harrier Naga, Sidewinder Naga
Uncommon Devotee of Strength, Dune Diviner
Neither common impresses me too much here. A 3/3 vanilla is playable but not much above replacement level. Even with a desert in play, the Sidewinder is still a 4/2 which will trade with just about anything. It would be worse in a format with more first strike, but I still don’t think it’s a top pick. The Devotee looks like a premium uncommon though that hits for 3 and an ability that would be good even if it could only target itself. The Dune Diviner is a filler level card that gets some extra value in a desert theme deck.
Uncommon Bloodwater Entity, Obelisk Spider, Resolute Survivors, Unraveling Mummy
Of course the gold uncommons should be powerful. The spider does everything GB wants to do as a strong blocker that works with -1/-1 counter synergies. It’s a strong card but similar to Amonkhet, I’m not convinced high toughness creatures are indicative of a good strategy. The UR, BW, and RW uncommons look like the best of all which could put these color pairs a notch above the rest. The UR Entity looks a little lower in power level than the BW and RW uncommon on the surface, but given the support we’ve seen for a UR aggressive deck, I think this will prove to be quite good. It doesn’t hurt that it gets access to Magma Spray in pack 3.
Common Graven Abomination
I don’t think this card is unplayable, nor do I think it’s very good. It hits hard and dies to everything, but does have the upside of occasionally nabbing an Embalm or Eternalize card on its way out. If I had ways to grant first strike or jump it, I could see this making the cut but I’d hope not to play it.
Based on the 2 and 3 drops we’re seeing, this format does look like it’s setting up to be pretty aggressive again. The average card gets higher power than toughness and many have attack-only bonuses. There are a lot of x/1 creatures, so I think I would start with the assumption that my red decks will be maindecking at least one Blur of Blades for aggro mirrors.
Top Commons and Uncommons
We’ve gotten a pretty good idea what the format might look like now. Creatures are aggressive. Removal is expensive. Mana fixing is available but probably too slow considering the aggressive stats on the 2 and 3 drops. In an aggressive format without efficient removal I’d be looking for better ways to race – vigilance, first strike and incidental lifegain come to mind. As mentioned earlier, white seems to have good options in this regard.
Aven of Enduring Hope
Vizier of the True
White is aggressive but I don’t think it has to be the fastest color because it will be good at staying ahead in the race which a mix of vigilance, untap effects and lifegain. Usually the removal spell is the highest rated in a color, but in this case the fact that it can’t proactively remove a blocker and is combat conditional knocks it down a peg for me. Vizier looks like a mythic uncommon and I’m even going to take it over the premium uncommon removal.
Eternal of Harsh Truths
I have to give an honorable mention to Vizier of the Anointed as a great value card. I’m just taking a stand that blue will be more aggressive in this set than we’re used to. That’s also the reason for including Unsummon as a top blue uncommon.
Torment of Venom
I want to rate Lethal Sting highly, but I don’t know what you’re supposed to put the counter on (too many of the cheap creatures I want to play have 1 toughness). I could see this being wrong in a month, but for now I just have to put the two removal spells at the top of the commons.
There are a lot of strong uncommons in red; actually, red looks strong in general. Many of the premium cards here are all removal, which is a good sign for red. Kindled Fury may or may not be one of the true premium commons but I did want to call it out as a sleeper. I noted earlier that there aren’t a lot of first strike creatures. In a format where there’s a lot of attacking, winning combat for 1-mana can mean stealing the initiative back when on the draw and getting ahead in the race. With the removal being so expensive, this is a way to get ahead on the cheap. This should make Chris Pikula happy (or unhappy since I’m telling everyone).
Gift of Strength
Ambuscade is a tremendously powerful card, killing a creature and getting in extra damage. At instant speed it can also blow out double blocks. The Sharpshooters mix of keywords and stats have me putting it on this list despite the mana cost. I think vigilance is good enough for me to value it highly early on. I don’t usually rate combat tricks very highly but I think this format is one where it may be correct to do so. A Giant Growth, even for an extra mana, looks like it will do some work in this format. On the more obvious side, I said I wanted ways to win a race and Overcome does just that.
Well, after looking through the set for awhile, this is where I’ve landed. I expect the top archetypes to be 2-colors, play a low curve, and use combat tricks and evasion to get through damage. I think we’ll see 2-color Mardu variants (white with red/black removal or RB Afflict) be the most successful decks early in the format. UR prowess is a strategy I expect to be tier 1 once we figure out how to build it. UB cycling and BW zombies both have a shot to be strong as well. Sounds pretty similar to the Amonkhet format really. A big question I have is if Ambuscade and Rhonas’s Stalwart give green enough to make it a top tier strategy (maybe RG or GW).
It may not all be correct, but I like going into a new set with an opinion and a plan. I’m looking forward to drafting and seeing how my experience compares to my expectations. Of course, I’ll be adjusting my evaluations as I start playing, but it’s useful to have somewhere to start from.
What do you think? Did I miss something? What archetypes are you looking forward to drafting?
Good luck and see you in the draft queues!