It’s spoiler season once again! And as the commons and uncommons start to trickle out after the explosion of fancy new rares for constructed players, we get to start speculating about how the new limited format will play out. Right now, there’s not a ton on that front, but we do already have access to something really important- the new set mechanics. And since Hour of Devastation is a small set, even though we don’t exactly know the whole picture of what those mechanics will bring, we can look at them in the context of how they could change the format from what it was with triple Amonkhet. In fact, let’s do just that, and make some educated guesses on how the Limited format will evolve based on the information we have.
Embalm was already a weird mechanic. Making copies of things except they’re white zombies isn’t exactly natural. Now we’ve got black zombies that also change their base power and toughness to a fixed number! But how will Eternalize change Limited coming from a strictly Embalm format?
4-Xs and X-5s get better.
That fixed 4 power and toughness is going to have a lot to do with how combat in this set plays out. Stats that kill 4/4s and/or don’t get killed by 4/4s go up in value. Remember Khans of Tarkir block and morph? Wetland Sambar, an extremely mediocre creature, was actually somewhat playable in that format in large part because it could attack into a large majority of three-drops, or stay behind and trade with them on defense. I’m predicting that we’re going to see the same effect in this set, except a bit further up the curve.
Midrange blue-white gets slower.
In Amonkhet, there are three distinct blue-white decks that are frequently viable: a hyper-aggressive deck that’s all-in on one-drops, a midrange deck that gets value off embalm creatures, and a durdly control deck. I’m predicting that Eternalize is going to push the second archetype to win a bit later in the game. You’re going to want the game to last long enough so you can get some 4/4s into play, and I’d imagine that Eternalize costs are going to be higher than Embalm costs on average.
Bounce is still good, but for different reasons.
In Amonkhet, bounce spells like Winds of Rebuke were really good for two reasons. The more important reason was that the format was really aggressive, and playing a Winds for tempo so you could attack in was often correct. The less important reason was that you could just kill big Embalmed creatures with them, which is a great deal for two mana. Well, in Hour of Devastation, the Embalmed creatures are always going to be big, so Winds is always going to be a great deal when you hit them with it. Whether the format is also aggressive or not remains to be seen.
Worship gets a bit worse (lol).
It’s true- if you win the lottery and open a Worship invocation, it’s less of an auto win now even if your opponent can’t remove it. So sad.
Black will get more aggressive.
If you’re a fan of black aggression, Amonkhet is probably making you pretty sad. Red, green, and white all get awesome exert two-drops that get to attack for 3 and trade with three-drops after getting some damage in. Meanwhile, black gets Dune Beetle, Doomed Dissenter, and Miasmic Mummy– the only one that even attacks for 2 is bad on turn 2 for crying out loud! And yet, there’s hope for black aggro yet. Khenra Eternal, a recently spoiled 2/2 for 2 with afflict 1, looks like exactly the kind of two mana creature that will get black attacking again, and might make decks like black-red or black-green aggro more viable in the new format.
Low-power, high-toughness blockers (especially X-4s!) remain bad.
Playing a Dune Beetle on two only to see a Gust Walker or Bitterblade Warrior drop across the table has got to be one of the worst feelings Amonkhet Limited has to offer. Just like Exert has made blocking bad for three months, Afflict also heavily punishes blocking- it’s literally all the mechanic does. Cards like Dune Beetle are designed to block and not do much else, so they’re still bad as long as blocking is bad. If they have five or more toughness, they get a slight nod for effectively blocking Eternalized creatures.
Chump blocking with 1/1 vigilance tokens isn’t always gonna cut it.
There were a lot of these tokens in Amonkhet, and they were pretty good at poking in for damage when they could, and then finally blocking and dying when you started to lose a race. This strategy could still be effective in Hour of Devastation, but the existence of Afflict makes that less likely.
It’s harder for control decks to stabilize at a low life total.
Regardless of the Limited format, it’s pretty common in aggro versus control matchups for the control deck to finally stem the bleeding at five or less life after they’ve finally accrued the right blockers to make attacking an ineffective strategy for the opponent. Now with Afflict, this gets a little harder- it will sometimes come up that the aggressor has lethal on board whether or not you block, which previously only happened with tricks like Brute Strength. Afflict in the format will mean that control decks can’t breathe as easily at low life totals, even with a stable board, and some incidental life gain here or there might shore up those matchups.
Obviously, these points are little better than wild speculation until we get to see the full set, or at least until we see more commons with the new mechanics. But discussions like this are the best way to start thinking about the new set during spoiler season, and can guide our thinking into our first few Hour of Devastation drafts.
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