The Pro Tour hasn’t happened yet, but I’m ready to prematurely hail Hour of Devastation as the savior of Magic. It’s funny, because out of the gate a lot of people panned the set. I couldn’t disagree more.
I will concede that Hour of Devastation lacks some of the zazz of other recent sets. Yet, for all the blow-your-doors-off Zendikar and Kaladesh offered, what did they really provide? Well for starters, terrible Standard formats that required one banning after another.
Game design is tricky and requires balance to offer repeatable and fun playability. Obviously, powerful cards are exciting and jump off the page during spoiler season, but these flashy cards can also wear on you as the months march on. *Cough* CopyCat… *Cough* Marvel…
Good for five minutes of enjoyment.
Zendikar and Kaladesh cost Magic a lot of credibility with its player base. Having to ban so many cards over the course of such a short period left many players arching their eyebrows and wondering whether the ship is ever going to get righted.
I don’t want to beat a dead horse about the past year. Today, I’d like to share why I’m optimistic that Hour of Devastation (the set) is exactly the step in the right direction that Magic needs right now. And to answer the question, I think this set is exactly that necessary step in the right direction.
Hour of Devastation is a Return to Sanity
It also has a lot to offer and I’d like to go across the board and explain why I think this is an important and positive presence.
1. HOU has Great Casual Cards
Casual cards are typically easy to identify because they are powerful, flashy, and exciting. These are the kind of cards that tournament players try to talk themselves into playing because they are sweet, but often too narrow or expensive to make the mainstream cut.
There is a reason tournament players try to talk themselves into playing these cards: They are sweet and fun. They are the kind of cards that people like to play.
Casual encompasses an array of non-tournament formats, most notably but not limited to, Commander. Casual Magic gets a bad rap because the word "casual" implies it isn't serious. But this group of players is quite serious about the formats they enjoy, which is why it's good to see thoughtfully designed, complex, and compelling cards.
Finally, MTG Gods that don’t suck.
I would argue this is the first cycle of Gods that actually feels like Gods and lives up to the reputation such a title bestows.
The old Gods are kind of hard to nail down from a design perspective: They are medium-costed creatures that don’t impact the board directly unless other cards help power them up. Also, they're difficult to interact with, which mostly doesn’t matter because it is almost always better to just interact with the cards that are powering them up.
The fact is, I don’t really even know how to talk about the old God cards except to say they don’t feel particularly godly to me. The new Gods, on the other hand, are way cool because they are powerful in ways that are cool and flavorful.
The new Gods do a good job at blurring the line between casual and Constructed cards, which is a good step.
2. The Return of Hate Cards
People had begun to rightfully observe that Standard was becoming a midrange slogfest. Planeswalkers have played a big part in Standard’s journey to the middle because they are so difficult to answer without losing value or tempo in one way or another.
We are also at a point where threats are better and more efficient than potential answers, which is awkward.
I’m really excited to see that Wizards is experimenting with putting dedicated hate cards back into Standard. It provides a way of adding narrow but efficient answers to certain strategies post-sideboard.
The Defeat cycle isn't Red Elemental Blast or Choke level, but I’m glad that Wizards is exploring the option of printing narrow answers that are more efficient than the threats they seek to answer. I think Magic is more interesting when playing with the “best” cards and strategies has a cost.
3. The Set Feels Like it was Created with an Understanding of the Metagame it was Born into
I like the way there are a lot of cards in Hour of Devastation that almost feel like they are direct answers to other strategies that exist in Standard.
Solves the Gideon problem.
A bunch of decks now don’t always die to a resolved Gideon.
Solves the Heart of Kiran and Gearhulk problem.
Decks with red mana don’t always have to get bricked by turn-2 Heart!
To say these cards “solve the problem” is too simplistic. But these cards exist largely to help insulate the metagame against certain “best decks.”
I like the idea of using some slots in every set to print cards like Abrade or Hour of Devastation that efficiently interact with the top-tier Standard strategies—in particular, problematic cards that are format warping, like Gideon, Heart, etc.
4. The Limited Format is Straight Gasoline
Last but not least, the Limited format is absolutely amazing and one of my favorites in quite a while.
I already liked Amonkhet Limited a lot and Hour of Devastation adds to the elements that I already enjoyed and makes the format better.
The Gods are kind of annoying to lose to… but at least they are mythics and 2 colors, which means that these game-warpers will be much less common to come up against than Archfiend of Ifnir or the Sphinx.
I like the direction that Wizards has taken with Hour of Devastation. Overall, I see a willingness to reconsider answers as a viable tool, and even hate cards. I like the flavor. There are casual cards that make me actively want to build a Commander deck again. The Limited format is fun as hell.
Hour of Devastation takes Magic in a direction that I’m excited to see.