Last weekend I hauled up to Minneapolis for the Standard grand prix. After watching Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, the format looked wide open and fun. I know the Ruin Red decks dominated in Kyoto, but it’s hard to imagine a format where red beatdown is the best deck but no other decks can compete. Red has a clear gameplan, which means there are clear counterplans. Not everyone seemed to think so, but the dominance of Zombies over Ruin Red at Grand Prix Minneapolis demonstrated that there’s plenty left to explore in Standard. With the RPTQ weekend coming up—I’m not qualified but my buddy Shawn is, plus there’s the last chance qualifier here in Denver I can play—plus Grand Prix Denver in two weeks, I wanted to try my hand at the format. Plus there was a Sealed PTQ on Sunday to make the trip worth my while.

In the main event I played an Orzhov midrange deck I brewed up, with The Scarab God, Negate, and Supreme Will in the sideboard. Walking Ballista is great right now, and I decided to pair it with Liliana, the Last Hope and Archangel Avacyn for inevitability, plus Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, wraths, and removal. The deck handled Ruin Red fairly easily, could grind out long games over Zombies, played fun and challenging semi-mirrors against Winding Constrictor, and could at least pressure the powerful late-game decks with Gideon. Gonti, Lord of Luxury was amazing out of the sideboard, including nabbing Djeru, With Eyes Open from another white-black brew I faced, with which I picked up Gideon.

I faced swamp decks every round, mostly Zombies and green-black. I picked up an unfortunate draw in round six after I won a 45 minute game one over Zombies but mulliganed into oblivion game two and couldn’t survive long enough to avoid the draw, which game early in game three. At 4-1-1 and not having faced red yet, I knew I was in for even more black decks. Sure enough, every round was a deck with Grasp of Darkness. I won round seven against white-black mirror, but lost the last two against green-black and blue-black control to miss day two. Seven rounds of grindy black matchups gets tiring. I had fun playing the matches, but at the end of the day I was glad to put sixty cards away and play some Sealed on Sunday.

The highlight of my main event was that 45 minute game. I ground through three Relentless Dead and friends for twenty turns, blocking with knight ally tokens, using all my spot removal, many sweepers, and three Walking Ballista. Eventually my opponent tapped out to bring them all back in play on his turn. I had my final Ballista with four counters in play, along with Gideon and Kalitas. At the end of his turn I dropped Archangel Avacyn, sacrificed the Walking Ballista to kill the four-toughness Lord of the Accursed, then flipped Avacyn to clear his board and attack for lethal. It felt so good to find a path to victory and walk my opponent into a vulnerable position. It’s too bad I couldn’t hold on for the match win, as maybe I would have faced a better variety of decks outside the draw bracket.

An unexpectedly appropriate playmat choice.

The Sunday PTQ was organized into eight flights of 32 players, with the best record in each pod after five rounds of Swiss going to the top eight draft. My pool was strong, though it lacked any broken rares. I was able to assemble a strong Sultai deck featuring Hour of Promise and five deserts, along with plenty of good cheap creatures, Mouth // Feed, and Overcome. The power level of my cards was high, the mana strong, and the gameplan clear. You can’t ask for much more than that. Here’s the list, with relevant or semi-relevant sideboard options:

Promising Sultai

Creatures (11)
Resilient Khenra
Rhonas’s Stalwart
River Hoopoe
Spellweaver Eternal
Sinuous Striker
Harrier Naga
Obelisk Spider
Bitterbow Sharpshooters
Rampaging Hippo

Spells (12)
Mouth // Feed
Hour of Promise
Hieroglyphic Illumination
Final Reward
Unquenchable Thirst
Supreme Will
Strategic Planning
Lands (17)
Desert of the Indomitable
Desert of the Mindful
Desert of the Glorified
Survivors’ Encampment
Ifnir Deadlands

Sideboard (24)
Winds of Rebuke
Jace’s Defeat
Cryptic Serpent
Hekma Sentinels
Proven Combatant
Seer of the Last Tomorrow
Open into Wonder
Haze of Pollen
Beneath the Sands
Stinging Shot
Gift of Strength
Shadowstorm Vizier
Lethal Sting
Wasteland Scorpion
Wretched Camel
Trespasser’s Curse
Claim // Fame
Canyon Slough
Cradle of the Accursed

This deck is basically my dream. I wish it had some fliers other than Riddleform, but that card alone is amazing. Blue-green offers so many spells that fit right into a midrange creature strategy. It really helps to have Mouth // Feed and Hour of Promise to make tokens and Overcome to force through victory. Resilient Khenra does a ton of work, and any day I can cast River Hoopoe is a good day. Maybe Proven Combatant should have made the cut as well, but card slots were at a premium.

This deck had plenty of hard removal despite being most blue and green. Yes, Final Reward is a good catch-all, but I didn’t even need to play Lethal Sting. Ambuscade is so powerful, but the real powerhouses were my two Unquenchable Thirst. This is the best common removal spell in the format. With five deserts, I could always tap the creature, and once a creature gets thirsty, it is pretty much gone. There are few sacrifice effects and -1/-1 counters  show up less in Hour of Devastation than they did in Amonkhet. Eternalize creatures don’t get to come back from this bender. I think I should have found a place for Unsummon, maybe over Strategic Planning. I tended to side out a land for it on the draw, which was most game twos. But I didn’t really need it.

The mana in Hour of Devastation sealed can be tricky. It looks better than it is. I was very pleased with how my manabase played, and the full seventeen lands plus one Manalith proved reliable without flooding out. The pool offered two Manaliths and Beneath the Sands alongside Hour of Promise, but you can’t dedicate too many card slots in your sealed deck for fixing even when it ramps. I chose not to run a Swamp because I the deck needs to play creatures and spells on curve. With five deserts, including Ifnir Deadlands as mostly a painful swamp the fulfills Hour of Promise, I did not have room for another black source. It wasn’t easy to activate Ifnir Deadland‘s removal ability, but I did a few times. I considered it a resource for the very late game, and indeed it was. Don’t waste card slots trying to get extra value out of your lands.

People think Sealed is all about the rares. Yes, they help. The powerful bombs have to be answered. But Hour of Devastaton sealed is a great format where powerful commons and uncommons determine the outcome of most games. Who needs rares when you can cast Ambuscade and Supreme Will? Riddleform is an evasive threat and a late-game card selection engine. It’s perfect. This deck has all the tools I need to win a lot of matches.

And indeed I did. Unfortunately I lost a very close round two to my bete noir, turn three Cartouche of Ambition. Seriously, that is one powerful common. My opponent put it on his Spellweaver Eternal, killing mine. He got up to thirty life before I could remove it, which meant he still had ten life when he drew Kefnet the Mindful and took over the game. I fought valiantly against a deck full of fliers, but came up short. I won the rest of my games, finishing one lost short of the top eight. Just short, but I was pleased with my play.

Hour of Devastation sealed is one of my favorite, and I think the best Sealed format since Khans of Tarkir. It certainly falls right in my wheelhouse. So far I’ve played three competitive tournaments in the format, and my combined record in matches is 18-2. Those came on day one of Grand Prix Toronto (9-0), the Grand Prix Minneapolis PTQ (4-1), and a Denver PPTQ (5-1).

I can’t wait for Grand Prix Indianapolis.

Carrie O’Hara is Editor-in-Chief of Hipsters of the Coast.

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