Red Mages Quarterly: Hour of Devastation

Simon Irving Red Mages Quarterly, Standard

Reports of the Red Deck’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. While much of this past Standard season was defined by the Aetherworks Marvel in the room, my red-deck-minded associates and I were enraptured by an entirely different strategy. I am of course talking about the SaffronOlive special, Two Tix Red.

Despite some initial skepticism on my part, I’ve seen lists built on the core of Bomat Courier, Bloodrage Brawler, and Ahn-Crop Crasher wreak havoc on many of my local FNMs and even the odd RPTQ. Even without a density of premier burn spells, these types of decks hit fast and hard, turning on the aggression early and blasting past blockers with the winning combination of Crasher and Cartouche of Zeal. With these positive results in our pocket as Amonkhet Standard winds to a close, let’s look at what additions Hour of Devastation could bring to this iteration of the classic Red Deck.

Creatures

The premier red creature from Hour of Devastation looks like it should be Earthshaker Khenra. This aggressive two-drop certainly synergizes well with the Cartouche/Crasher combo, giving the red player ever more tools to thwart opposing defenses. That said, when your list has only nineteen or twenty lands, the Eternalize clause on the card may as well not exist. For that reason, I am actually most excited about humble Firebrand Archer. Seemingly a natural pairing with Thermo-Alchemist for the three months that both cards are in the format together, Firebrand Archer gives you reach by adding firepower to every burn spell you play.

I do want to quickly address two other noteworthy cards, both of which cost four mana. Wildfire Eternal is certainly a flashy creature, with that terrifying Afflict 4 clause coupled with a dramatic triggered ability whenever it goes unblocked. While I suspect that Wildfire Eternal will do its best work in a deck that wants to cast something bigger than an Incendiary Flow, with the right cards in Ixalan and beyond, this mean jackal could be poised for a breakout. The other card to watch is Sand Strangler, which does a very decent Flametongue Kavu impression. Creatures that can kill something when they enter the battlefield while sticking around to attack and block have been historically powerful. Red has access to several interesting lands with the Desert subtype, so don’t sleep on the Strangler in the right deck.

Burn Spells

No discussion of Hour of Devastation is complete without Abrade. I do believe that this will be the single most impactful red card from the set, with unmatched versatility. Finally, you can kill a Toolcraft Exemplar or the Heart of Kiran he rode in on. Prepare to see the Harnessed Lightnings of the past year phased out in favor of this efficient removal spell. I myself will probably run a full playset in my Mono-Red sideboard, considering just how brutal it is to play small red creatures against a Heart of Kiran. Even without being able to burn players for those final points of damage, Abrade is the real deal.

Unfortunately, Hour offers little else in the way of affordable direct damage. I had joked during my red review of Amonkhet that perhaps Nicol Bolas could grace us with a Lightning Bolt reprint. Well, Open Fire technically has the same rules text! There’s just that little issue of two extra colorless mana attached.

Utility Spells (And Lands!)

Rarely do I get to be enthusiastic about new non-basic lands as a red player – usually, I’m just sleeving up a big stack of Mountains – but Hour of Devastation gives us at least one intriguing option. Ramunap Ruins checks so many of the necessary boxes for a non-basic land to see play in red. Enters the battlefield untapped? Check. Creates red mana? Check. Offers some kind of damage or other late-game reach? You betcha! Ramunap Ruins gives you something to do if you flood out on lands, while still keeping up the flow of aggression if you have a more balanced draw. The small ticks of life loss should be irrelevant – your deck has the ability to put far more pressure on than nearly any opponent you face. The Ruins might just be the piece that puts each game over the top.

The question is whether you can jam any other Deserts into the deck along with the Ruins. Desert of the Fervent has plenty of upside, but will probably slow you down too often by awkwardly entering tapped. Is this a chance for Amonkhet‘s Sunscorched Desert to shine? I’m cagey about diluting my red sources, but I would not be surprised if you see lists going that route.

The rest of the red utility in Hour is thin. There are cards like Hazoret’s Undying Fury, or Hour of Devastation itself, both of which are too pricey for a traditional, low-to-the-ground red strategy. There’s the awesome-but-awkward Imminent Doom, which looks like something for a more unorthodox player to try and crack open. Perhaps Chandra’s Defeat will prove important when the format gets overrun by aggressive red strategies? Anything is possible!

Overall, I’m giving Hour of Devastation a C+ Red Deck Rating. While we shouldn’t expect too many new toys from a small set, the pool is very shallow once you get past Abrade. I do want to leave you with one final card to puzzle over: Crash Through. While this card may look like nothing to you, consider that it will exist in Standard alongside Expedite and Renegade Tactics for at least a few months. That’s twelve red one-mana cantrips you can play. Can you combo them with that intriguing Thermo-Alchemist/Firebrand Archer pairing? Perhaps in a prowess shell of some form? It’s time to start brewing, red mages!

 

Header design: Chris Rowlands