I wasn’t in Japan for Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, but after watching all three days of live coverage, I feel the jet lag all the same. That became a recurring theme each morning as those of us who’d stayed up watching the compelling coverage struggled to function during normal life hours. Hipsters’ robot overlord, David McCoy, churned out take after take, round after round, providing invaluable text coverage for anyone who couldn’t stream the event. I guess he really is a machine. He also assembled all the video links if you want an easy place to find specific round coverage.

Let’s talk takeaways from draft and Standard, and I’ll highlight two key moments from the coverage.


I love watching the first draft of the pro tour and watching the matches play out. By the time of the pro tour, draft metagames has started to emerge. Many players have battled the week prior in Limited grand prix, and now with the early Magic Online release, numerous draft league trophies have been claimed. But until a field of the best players sit down, absolutely focused on the draft environment with big money on the line, does the rubber hit the road. It’s one thing to favor certain archetypes in an early grand prix day two draft—you can exploit information assymetry to “force” underappreciated decks—but it’s very hard to profit from the ignorance of others at the pro tour.

My view going into the event (based on both online leagues and my experience on day two of GP Toronto) was that blue, red, and green are the stronger colors in Hour of Devastation draft. Blue-red spells is a favorite of many top players, and a perfect example of a deck with which you can crush less-informed drafters in your pod with power cards that you pick up the second time around each pack. But both at the top tables in Toronto and I expect at the pro tour, the strength of blue-red was too well-known. Green pairs well with both, so it makes sense that many drafters will start picking blue or red cards and then slide into green as the second color when blue-red itself is not open.  On the flipside, white offers little in the first two packs, but can round out a strong red or blue deck if it is open and you get rewarded in pack three. Black has a lot of good spells, but mostly bad creatures, making it a support color as well. If you get white-black zombies, it can be great, but as many rounds at the pro tour demonstrated, even a good-looking white-black deck underwhelms in practice.

Seth Manfield had an “amazing” white-black deck in the second draft coming out of his 8-0 run on day one. He started with Crested Sunmare—a solid reason to go for white from the start—and got plenty of support, but he still only won a single match with it. He rallied to make top eight off his brilliance in Standard, but white-black didn’t help him in draft. The first round of the tournament also showcased the mediocrity of white-black.

Round One

The pro tour started with Mike Sigrist battling against Bram Snepvangers. Neil Oliver wrote a nice summary of the match in this article. His analysis is spot-on. In game one, Bram turtled up behind walls and Fan Bearer while sitting on Hour of Revelation to take over the game. His build of white-black was control rather than zombies. On paper, it looks promising—force your opponent to overextend to get through your defenses, sweep the board, and win with recursion and card advantage.

Mike is one of the best drafters in the world, however, and he could smell something was up. He played out a ton of creatures, but held back his final card, Mouth // Feed, until he hit seven mana and could cast both sides to draw five or six cards. Bram had a few turns where he could have cast Hour of Revelation for three white mana, clearing the board and leaving Mike with one card in hand against Bram’s hand that included Aven of Enduring Hope, Sandblast, and a second Fan Bearer. That’s an ideal moment to fire off the wrath. But Bram didn’t. I agree with Neil that Bram was trying to maximize the cost reduction on his wrath to play a creature to follow up on the same turn. He only had three white mana, though, and kept waiting for a fourth plains, or perhaps a cheap black creature to cast off his non-white mana.

Watching it live, I felt Bram was making a huge mistake. Sure, I knew Mike had Mouth // Feed, but even just knowing the red-green deck has one card in hand with a massive board, you should want to clear out their army. Casting a sweeper against red-green when they have six plus creatures in play and one card in hand is the dream scenario. Who cares if you cast your Aven of Enduring Hope the same turn or the next? Fan Bearer and Sandblast will deal with whatever follow-up creatures they can muster. Your red-green opponent will struggle to catch up after the sweeper, and you have enough life that they can’t throw away cards to force through damage. Bram waited for “full value” and got punished. Once Mike drew six new cards, Bram would be behind after Hour of Revelation, making that card much weaker than it was on previous turns.


Besides the underwhelming performance of black-white control—which shows that Hour of Revelation and similar cards aren’t the best first pick to build around—this match demonstrated one of the traps that competitive Magic players fall into. So many cards have upside, and we feel like fools for not leveraging that upside. I’ve lost many games of Magic where I used my powerful resources inefficiently and ran out of steam. But the answer isn’t to always maximize your resources. Instead, you must use your resources in the best situations you can, sometimes for maximum value and sometimes for a lot less. Many games have been won off killing a two-mana 2/1 with Lightning Strike when that was how you were going to survive to win the game.

This issue comes up often in Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation because of cycling. You almost never want to cycle Archfiend of Ifnir, but pretty much every other cycling card is strong in part because you can cycle it when you need to draw other cards to win. But at other times, you cycle your Striped Riverwinder and Rampaging Hippo on the first two turns, never get another big creature, and lose. Being able to assess when to cycle and when not is a key skill.

Hour of Revelation is also a very tricky card. I really don’t like it in this Limited environment, mostly because it requires three white mana to cast. As Bram’s loss to Mike demonstrates, even in a dedicated white deck that can easily pay three white, all that mana concentration undermines the card’s value. What good is the cost reduction if you still can’t use the extra mana. Bram would probably have won that game if Hour of Revelation was just Planar Cleansing for six mana without the “upside” cost reduction. But because he could maximize the value, he looked in the wrong place to get that value.

Red-green has many ways to leverage a crowded board into a lethal attack. Overcome isn’t too amazing, and Insult // Injury is hard to come across as a third pack rare, but there are plenty of pump spells that can combine to produce a similar effect. Synchronized Strike, Brute Strength, maybe even Appeal // Authority or Onward // Victory off a splash. Even if you just attack them down to five life, a simple Inferno Jet off the top is enough to close the game. Which is to say, you are much mess likely to lose from double digit life, when playing against red green, if they have many creatures in play than if they have few or none.

Make sure you understand what value matters in the match, and focus on maximizing that. Don’t lose the game by trying to achieve the perfect score on each card you cast. Adapt and pay attention to what your opponent is doing, and what they’re cards and play pattern suggest they should be doing. Also, try not to draft white in Hour of Devastation.


So it turns out that when you give a solid mono-red beatdown deck a way to turn excess lands into direct damage, that deck is hard to beat. Ramunap Ruins does exactly what mono-red wants to do, and Sunscorched Desert is there to lend a hand. Mono-colored decks have always made best use of colorless value lands, most notably of the creature variety, like Mutavault. Who knows, maybe Hostile Desert will start showing up, but Ramunap Ruins avoids the hassle of trying to force through the final points of damage in combat.

Great red decks are still beatable, but you have to focus on beating them. Mostly that means gaining life in regular chunks, as that’s roughly equivalent to making them discard burn spells. Standard decks tend not to focus on gaining life unless they have some sweet combo based on that—Aetherflux Reservoir and Felidar Sovereign are both Standard legal, just saying. So it’s no surprise that the red decks dominated the tournament. Not because they are unstoppable, but because nobody really prepared to stop them. Expect to see a lot of copies of Authority of the Consuls, Fumigate, and maybe even stuff like Trespasser’s Curse or Jaddi Offshoot.

The problem for Standard then becomes this—if you’re focused on surviving by killing creatures and gaining life, how do you win? Once the aggressive decks get beaten back in a sea of Fumigate, Kozilek’s Return, and Yahenni’s Expertise, what slow decks rise to the top? Obviously it’s easier to win if you focus on crushing the late game without bothering to stop the fast decks. If you can rely others to chase away mono-red and zombies, you can beat the other decks by going over the top. Eldrazi ramp, Anointed Procession tokens, and Approach of the Second Sun control all do this, with varying degrees of success against Ramunap Ruins.

A few players, like hall-of-famer Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, came close to making the top eight of the pro tour playing control. Will that job get easier at Grand Prix Minneapolis this weekend? I suspect it will, though we shall see if that tournament is dominated by slow decks or not.

Most of the Standard rounds of the pro tour were fun to watch, but the top eight was one for the ages. I’m glad I stayed up Saturday night to experience it in real time. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa played amazing Magic, got lucky when he needed to, and took the whole thing down. But there’s one moment that overshadowed the others.

Round Eighteen

In the semi-finals, Paulo faced a red mirror match against Yam Wing Chun. Like the many red mirrors in this top eight, the best-of-five was a drawn-out battle with many difficult decisions. It came down to game five, where either player could win with the right cards off the top. The games can drag out with attrition and defensive positioning, but once Hazoret the Fervent hits play, it’s a sprint to the finish line. Yam had Hazoret in game five and Paulo didn’t. But maybe you heard about the strange end to the match.

Yam untapped with Hazoret in play and Collective Defiance in hand, with Paulo tapped out unable to block at eleven life. Yam had five mana, and drew for the turn. Incendiary Flow! Six points of burn for five mana plus Hazoret’s attack for five meant Yam had the win and a spot in the pro tour finals. But in his excitement, he picked up Hazoret to attack before casting either spell. Both sorceries, he was now stuck with two cards in hand and unable to attack with Hazoret. He regrouped and almost still won, but Paulo immediately knew what he was up against and eked out the victory that led to his second pro tour trophy in a his twelfth top eight.


Plenty has been said about this ten-thousand-dollar punt. We rely on instincts to navigate the ovrwhelming decision trees of a long Magic tournament. Sometimes our excitement betrays us. I know this too well, as I missed the top eight of Grand Prix Toronto in a similar fashion, where I excitedly played my key topdeck out of order and lost because of it. In the moment, I felt deeply connected to Yam. I hope he recovers and builds a strong career in tournament Magic. But one thing really stuck out to me.

In my article about punting away the top eight in Toronto, I called out the sage advice of Paulo Vitor. Always stop and evaluate your turn after your draw step before taking any actions. Not only does this help you reassess your strategy to avoid tunnel vision focus on the plan that was going to win three turns ago. it also gives you time to breath, calm your emotions, and make the right play. Yam not only fell victim to my mistake, he did it against Paulo Vitor himself! That’s just crazy.

Except it isn’t Paulo is one of the absolute best players in the history of Magic. The Jon/Kai comparisons are starting to actually become serious. And the thing is, Paulo has written so many great strategy articles, including one specifically called “Think Before You Act.” How do you win a pro tour? Spend a decade honing your strategic mastery of the game, live by your lessons, and get paid off. Throughout the top eight (and the Swiss), Paulo focused and played brilliant Magic. His quarterfinals match against Seth Manfield was a clinic on tight play.

Watching Paulo at the top of his game is a sight to behold. Learning from his lessons is key to achieving success in professional Magic. Yam Wing Chun paid five figures to learn that lesson in the semifinals of the pro tour. I paid only a few thousand to learn it at a grand prix. I hope both of us earn great rewards from our painful investments. And I hope you do as well.

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

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