It’s always a good idea to get your eyes on some pick decisions before you sit down to draft a new set for the first time. Seeing as the prerelease is coming up this weekend, now’s a good time to do that. Let’s see what we open in our first three picks of an Hour of Devastation draft!
Pack 1 Pick 1
Ah, there’s nothing like a fresh set of cards that we have no idea how to evaluate in context. What will we decide to pick? Well, to start, I would rule out all of the commons in this pack, since I don’t think any of them stack up to the uncommons and rare. (Harrier Naga has a shot at contending against some of the higher-rarity cards, but 3/3s don’t look great against eternals, and also who wants to start their first draft of a new set by slamming a vanilla 3/3?) We’re left with a weird fireball, a weird durdly desert dude, a weird Eternalize creature that makes you discard, and a straightforward 2/1 beater that’s hard to block and pumps itself. The thing about weird cards is that they’re even harder to evaluate than normal when you don’t know their context, but we’ll try.
Let’s start off with the rare, Torment of Hailfire. I don’t know whether this card is good, but it does remind me of a lot of a card I have plenty of experience playing with- Damnable Pact from Dragons of Tarkir. R/B Dash Aggro decks were pretty good in that format, and I actually played Damnable Pact every time I ended up in that archetype. The reason Pact was good was because it came with all the benefits of Lava Axe except that it dealt more damage if you waited, so it was rarely truly dead. (It also came with the fail case of being able to target yourself if you run out of cards, but I almost never used it that way.) Torment of Hailfire is a lot like Damnable Pact; it’s better because each extra mana counts for three life instead of one, but it’s worse because your opponents can choose to not simply die if their hand or board is strong enough. I think Torment is too big of a risk to jam here before we know more about this format, but it might move up my pick list in short order.
Next is Dune Diviner. I think this card can be pretty powerful, maybe even busted if a deep Desert-matters control deck exists in this format. The problem is that this card is very medium, even more so than Harrier Naga, especially if you don’t manage to grab that kind of support. As is, I think Pack 1 Pick 1 is a bit too early to commit to such a tenuous plan, and it’s probably best to wait until you have some support before you can say you’re dune it.
That leaves us with the last two uncommons to pick between, and I think it’s close. Interestingly, both cards enable cycling triggers and other graveyard shenanigans, but the red one gets to do it on demand, and on top of that it’s extremely difficult to block. On the other hand, the blue card just gets so much extra value in the late game, and it looks like it slots into the aggressive blue-based deck that looks like it’s finally going to come together this format. I don’t think you can go wrong here either way, but out of personal preference I’m going to side with Burning-Fist Minotaur– I love me a Zada’s Commando. Next pack!
Pack 1 Pick 2
There are quite a few cards in this pack that are very similar in power level- Eternal of Harsh Truths, Rhonas’s Stalwart, and Unsummon are all cards that I would be happy to pick up in picks 3-5 and would consider a signal if I saw much later than that. Other cards also come close to that mark- I think Claim // Fame is very similar in power level to those three cards, but the fact that it’s multicolor moves it a bit down in my pick order.
Saving Grace has the potential to be a blowout; if it consistently hits its best case scenario in this format, it’s a little better than all the cards in that tier, but if it doesn’t, it’s much worse. Luckily, we don’t have to think too hard about this pick because we’re staring at an Open Fire, which despite being a doubly nerfed Lightning Bolt is still awesome. The fact that it’s the same colors as our first pick lets us not think about this pick even more!
In these articles, I like to only go until Pick 3, so let’s look at our last pack for the day.
Pack 1 Pick 3
Aside from the cards that aren’t in contention, we’re looking at two medium red cards and two great pieces of black removal. Both red cards get much better than medium if you can enable their themes, but we can’t tell whether spells or deserts are going to come together so early in the draft. I’d rule them out, since branching out into a second color is likely to yield sweeter rewards anyway.
The two pieces of black removal are great for different reasons- Ifnir Deadlands can kill a small creature or shrink a larger one without taking up a spell slot, which good enough to offset the fact that it isn’t great for the cost to activate, loses you life, and is slightly situational. Lethal Sting is just sweet, sweet unconditional removal, and a -1/-1 counter somewhere usually isn’t a big deal, especially when you can draft your deck to mitigate that downside. Overall, between those cards, I’d take Lethal Sting here.
Tricked you though! The real best pick out of this pack is Imaginary Threats, to the point where I almost can’t believe this card is still here. If you’ve ever played with Sleep in Limited, you know what I’m talking about. If you’ve ever played against sleep in Limited, you know a frustration mere mortals rarely face, as you probably lost that game without being able to do anything about it. I will admit, Imaginary Threats is worse than Sleep if your opponent is already attacking, but at least the cycling helps offset the feel-bads in that case. In any other scenario, you get to force your opponent into making bad attacks (which is where this far surpasses Sleep), and then the survivors don’t even get to block for your next two combats. Imaginary Threats is the real deal, and I’m happy to move into blue-red beats here and never look back.