A Farewell to Small Sets
In their annual "big news" week, Mark Rosewater announced that Wizards will no longer be making small follow-up sets starting the block after Ixalan. On the whole, I think this is brilliant. Somehow, the small sets always had a sort of "been there, done that" feel about them. Getting to travel to a new world three times a year will dial up the excitement.
For the mini Battle Boxes, this is especially good news. I often get requests to change a block's mini Battle Box as soon as the follow-up set comes out, and I rarely feel it is worth the effort. There will be a few exciting cards that could obviously be included but beyond that it is often more of the same. Now, we no longer have that issue. I will be able to give you a new mini Battle Box three times a year and they will not be changing as a new set comes out. I'm on the fence whether I should change the Amonkhet mini Battle Box, because I don't think Hour of Devastation is a particularly good Battle Box set.
The GoodiesHour of Devastation picks up where Amonkhet left off. Embalm morphs into Eternalize, which will play very similarly. Afflict got added, and while it might play better than it looks, it just isn't a very exciting ability. Other than that, it is more of the same abilities. Many of the cards in Hour of Devastation are very specific, either helping specific decks or attacking specific strategies. While that may be great for Standard, it makes the set a bit boring for Battle Box. We don't care about cycling enablers or "deserts matter" effects because they will only work in a very small selection of Battle Boxes. As a result, I have decided to limit my usual Top 20 Battle Box cards to a more modest Top 10.
EternalizeNicol Bolas saw what embalming creatures could do and decided to go one better. Not only does an eternalized creature come back, it comes back as a 4/4 black zombie. While that is fun enough on its own, unfortunately the cards use the 4/4 in quite powerful ways. I'm afraid that cards like Adorned Pouncer, Champion of Wits and Dreamstealer are a bit too powerful for most Battle Boxes. They also somehow feel a bit gimmicky to me, but that is just a matter of taste.
AfflictI'm not sure what to think about afflict. In theory, it should make the decision to block or not more interesting, but I wonder if that is the case. I expect that in most cases it will still be obvious whether to block or not, potentially even more obvious. Of course, the closer players are to 0 life, the more interesting it becomes. We'll have to see, but my hopes aren't high.
The Hour of Devastation Top 10As usual, I close with what I think are the best Battle Box cards. Only a top 10 this time, a reflection of the high number of parasitic cards and cards designed specifically to help Standard. If you feel I've overlooked an obvious winner, please share this in the comments.
10. Djeru's Renunciation
Not very powerful, but a nice interactive effect. The cycling option gives this just enough oomph to make the list.
I don't often include targeted discard in my Battle Boxes because I personally don't really enjoy it. There's not really a reason why it shouldn't fit with the Battle Box format, though. A player will have more playables in his or her hand on average, but their power level will also be closer together. On balance, I expect the effect to be just a little less powerful than in normal Magic, so it's up to you whether you like these effects enough.
8. Crash Through
This can potentially break stalled boards, and if not it will replace itself for 1 mana. Seems like a useful tool in the Battle Box builder's toolkit.
7. Reason - Believe
If you play with a single communal deck and you enjoy manipulating other players' draws, this is a nice new option. For all other Battle Boxes, it's OK but not amazing.
6. Sunscourge Champion
Gaining 6 life while casting two reasonably relevant bodies seems good. Discarding a card is definitely a drawback, but one that in most Battle Boxes can be overcome.
5. Obelisk Spider
Fun enough on its own, and a definite must in any Battle Box that has a -1/-1 counter theme.
4. Angel of Condemnation
I like both flickering and temporarily exiling cards. I don't think being able to do the second multiple times will be a problem because of exert. If you are including this, keep in mind that high activation costs should be limited in Battle Box, so try to replace another card with an activation cost.
3. Earthshaker Khenra
I like it both early and late to push through blockers. Unlike his white, black and blue buddies, I don't think this is too powerful either.
2. Mirage Mirror
Extremely versatile for a reasonable cost. Of course, you have to activate it every turn, but on the other hand it can be a blocker on your opponent's turn, then a global enchantment on your turn. If you have the mana to spare, I think this will be a great laugh.
1. Nimble Obstructionist
It flies. It flashes. It cycles. It counters. It's a veritable swiss army knife with wings on. I think most modes are a little underpowered, but as a package it will please most blue mages. I like it enough to give it the edge over the mirror.
I was a little disappointed with what came out of our second stint in Amonkhet. But we have pirates and dinosaurs to look forward to in Ixalan. If that isn't every 8 year old boy's dream come true, I don't know what is. So let your inner child get excited, this is going to be T-Rexious, matey!