Sunday 4 June 2017

Hour of Devastation Initial Review Part 1

Bontu's Last Reckoning 5.5

As eye opening as a three mana Wrath is this card seems pretty bad. You have to really need hard and early mass removal to consider this. A simple Infest style card usually does enough if you are desperate for those earlier clears. Or if you are going to be needing harder clears you can just wait a turn for your Damnation and not ruin your own options. The drawback on this thing is huge. It is broadly worse than having echo. It is super rare you will incur less than a three mana lockdown the next turn and often you will find it hurts you more than that. In a list powered mainly off artifact mana this looks a whole lot better but that is a pretty narrow use. For control and midrange decks this will hurt to play. A lot. I think it will still get play, usually out of desperation. What with black having relatively few good Wraths this will be a little in higher demand.

I see this rather like the Pact cycle. Pretty powerful in the niche cases where you can largely mitigate the drawback however pretty significantly below par in the more usual decks. A Wrath is rarely a card you are incorporating into a win there and then and that is where the Pacts shone most. The most likely way that happens is when you have an Abyssal Persecutor in play and they are on less than 1 life! I see Bontu's Last Reckoning as having far less ability to sidestep the drawback than the Pacts and so the play it will get will be that desperation kind. Sometimes, as mentioned this will be due to lack of other mass removal options however I think more often it will be to hedge against bad matchups. A lot of aggressive decks will be able to output critical damage prior to a four mana mass removal spell, especially on the play. A valid strategy for aggressive decks against mass removal can still be to wildly over extend if they are going to do enough work with that initial surge. Sure, a Damnation might 4 for 1 them but if they are on 4 life that is not often a problem. A three mana Wrath, even one that prevents you doing anything on your following turn is much more likely to rescue a game against such a plan. You skipped turn will matter that much less as they will be that much more out of gas and applying so much less pressure. This is even more the case against cheat in decks who think they can outpace a four mana Wrath and will put something like an Emrakul into play while you only have one turn at three mana to deal with. As such this feels like much more of a sideboard tool but none the less one you still want in cube. Having to consider the possibility of three mana wraths will make the game more interesting even if the three mana Wrath isn't being played.

Obviously Toxic Deluge is already a reliable stand alone three mana Wrath but against 15/15 dorks or hyper aggression the life cost can be even more dangerous than locking down your lands! Deluge is wildly better than Last Reckoning but it being such a known thing makes it more on people's radar. With both Deluge and Bontu's in black it will just be that much more likely that a black player can wipe the board with just three mana! You cannot easily play around both even if you were able to play around one to some extent. Much as I don't think this is a good cube card I think it is a necessary one in a number of places. At the very least it will add something to the decision making process of early all in plays.

The cube has lots of cheap cards you can't play early. Mechanic like delve and suspend achieve this end as do some card specific things like Sera Avenger. Some cards generate mana or untap and act like they cost less, Frantic Search it typically a zero mana spell you can't play prior to three mana. Garruk Wildspeaker is often a two mana spell that you needed four to get out etc. Only echo and the Pact cycle really explore the opposite idea - expensive spells you can play early. Last Reckoning joins these few cards and may well yet surprise. With so few examples of similar mechanics, especially good rounded playable ones, it is very hard to draw comparisons from "known" quantities. While this card seems really bad there is some chance that a turn three Wrath is so powerful that it is ultimately worth the extra 50% total mana cost over Damnation. I hope to see at least a cycle of this new mechanic  as I think it is incredibly interesting and should throw up some unexpected results. Just the idea of a Lightning Bolt, Swords to Plowshares or Counterspell level card with this drawback is exciting, fascinating and somewhat plausible!

Samut, the Tested 3

This name. I dunno if it is just me but it really sounds like she went down the clinic expecting to be riddled but came back clean and is now raring to go! Hopefully the awkward name won't matter much as this doesn't seem very playable. When Samut is good she will be very good. Going to five loyalty and Assault Strobing a three or more powered dork is going to be a massive tempo swing and threat doubly whammy. When you get to take out two things with the Forked Bolt mode and be left with a decent planeswalker you a laughing too. The issue is that both of these things are pretty situational. Samut has no good default abilities. She can be pretty blank in most cases. As a source of ongoing face damage with the -2 she is laughable. Only having a relevant + loyalty ability when you not only have a decent dork but are in a position to be aggressive with that dork as well is a problem. Samut's defensive capabilities are really poor. By turn four a mere Forked Bolt isn't holding off that much and the doublestrike can't even be used to block. A 3/3 on their side of the board is enough to make Samut a much weaker play. Samut is a massive win more card. She is gold and simply outclassed by a lot of alternatives. There isn't room for things like this in the cube. While very much not the worst planeswalker you only really want planeswalkers that do specific things you require, that are always offering some useful things, or are simply very high power level. Samut is none of these three things, she is fine but not what you want. She might not even be in the top three red green planeswalkers....

Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh 3

The third most expensive planewalker of all time (if we are taking colour difficulty into account at least, and still top five if not!). Obviously this is very very powerful but that doesn't make it good or, more importantly, playable in the cube. Not only does this need to do something you really want it to it also has to be better than the alternatives to get much of a look in. A three colour seven drop that you are aiming to hard cast is not something you are going to see a lot of. It will be in very few lists and hit play far less than that! Being such a rare thing to get action just by virtue of its cost it pretty much needs to say win the game to be of interest. Like Samut, this is a fine card, it might even be a good card however in the cube this is very aimless indeed. It will just take up space and lead to less consistent drafts. This has last pick written all over it just because no one will be in a position to play it.

The first real blow for this thing is that if you can play it you might as well just play the original Nicol Bolas Planeswalker. Despite having one ability less the original offering is a much better game closer and problem solver card. It has more immediate and relevant impact on the game and generally does read "win the game". God-Pharaoh on the other hand seems like a slow and awkward tool to do what you need to do. The +2 is powerful but utterly unreliable and slow. On average you are getting a low power thing that won't help solve your larger problems. Don't get me wrong, a 2 or 3 free mana, a free card and 2 loyalty is good but it is a slow value tool which is not why you play seven drops in cube. The +1 is great too, it will destroy slow decks. Unfortunately when you are playing seven mana planeswalkers you are the slowest deck. It doesn't win you the game, it just shuts down your opponent somewhat if for some reason they still held action... The ultimate would be great if you could use it without having to do at least 3 turns worth of plus loyalty effects. Again it is slow and again it doesn't win the game. It isn't a good problem solver even though it should be just because it is so slow and unreliable to get there. Lastly the -4, it is good, it has a bit of reach and some control over the board. It is what you want to be doing with a card like this but it is too pricey. You can't do it back to back, you leave your Bolas on 3 loyalty if you do it right away. If this were a -3 cost then this would be a whole lot more interesting, it would have enough threat level to merit its cost. Very powerful but not what you need in cubes.

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