Returning to the Fold: Playing Magic the Gathering’s Pre-release Hour of Devastation

9 Jul

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By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)

I have not played the customizable card game, Magic the Gathering (MtG) for a very long time. In the past, I enjoyed how this game played with the legends from an ancient exotic world or looked at a genre (especially horror) in new ways. The best legacy era expansion sets are Arabian Nights and The Dark. I eventually stopped playing because folks with plenty of money to buy those great cards made me feel I could not compete and I did not find the world they created for MtG all that engaging. Finding casual games at gaming stores was tough.

Also, I wanted Wizards of the Coast to offer a new Middle Eastern themed set. The legends and lore of Ancient Egypt are the most requested and everybody knew it. Twenty-three years later since the release of Arabian, this company finally delivered with Amonkhet. The subset Hour of Devestation looks great. I saw cards showing the designers were looking deep into to Kemetic lore get the mystique right. The first set only whetted many enthusiasts appetite.

Pre-release challenges at gaming stores occurred over the weekend and I thought why not, let’s jump in. I know the core game mechanics and I am playing Magic Duels. Hopefully, I will not suck going up against experienced players. At least the field is level in the sealed game-play format. I went to a store where I did not feel intimidated. Out of the four stores in town, only one looked hopeful. It was not an overstuffed operation and it smelled clean. I plan on playing again this coming weekend (July 14-17) when this expansion hits all retail outlets.

My hope is with the packages I’m opening might offer me one (or more) of the eight gods from this fictional desert world. In this new set, three new figures are introduced: Locust (perhaps referring to one of the plaques released in The Ten Commandments), Scarab (Khepri in Egyptian lore) and Scorpion (Serket). Curiously, there are no other grasshopper type cards other than Locust Swarm from Mirage. Sorry, Nicol Bolas, but you’re not a figure from Egyptian lore, so you do not count.

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In the pre-release show, I found the Scarab God and was thrilled (more on this later).

After looking at nearly every available piece of information online, I discovered Amonkhet does an exceptional job at covering every bit of what I adore from this mystical Ancient Egyptian world. From the mummification process to giving the cat species the respect they deserve, the only animal missing is the bull and cow. I wanted to see a version of Hathor or Horus but sadly, they were not in the cards.

This new set has plenty of flavour to make this expansion feel like it is truly set in the desert world. I tried to build a mini-deck playing with the desert theme. I had cards from three different colours (elemental worlds) to make it work. Unfortunately, it had to be trimmed to two to be able to win a few rounds. Had all those cards emerged during play in a smaller (say 30 cards) deck, I would have felt like I was commanding the sands and its many denizens! If only Desert Twister or Sand Storm came back into this set! From possible combinations with camels and a cerodon, I might have buried my opponent. Although I do not understand why nagas from Hindu lore are in this set, I had to turn the folklorist nature in me off. If I had gotten my desert land cards in play soon, these creatures would have had extra abilities turned on. I also had three Wall of Forgotten Pharaohs. They allowed me to cause direct damage to my opponent than his creatures.

In what I am considering to create with my Scarab God card is in whether or not there are enough beetles to go around. In today’s MtG world and online market, it’s easy to find the cards from any set I want to play with but I would rather stay within the set. Decimator beetles are available and sadly there are no more. The same can be said for Scorpion. He’s hardly the King here.

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I think I can build a deck to follow along with the journey described in The Egyptian Book of the Dead. I have Kefnet the Mindful, Oketra the True, Bontu the Glorified, Hazoret the Fervent and Rhonas the Indomitable to make “encountering” them and seeing them cast spells from this new set possible. Technically, they are not planeswalkers, with varying abilities. They function more like a legendary. I think this design decision is a misstep since divinities like Anubis have multiple roles. The jackal-headed god is a guardian and protector of the dead, guiding them through the gates of the Duat to meet Osiris.

Apophis does not exist in this set and he plays an important role. He represents the night and can eclipse the sun (swallowing the light) until defeated. The MtG variation is Glorybringer. This new Ennead (yes, Nicol, you are included) makes for a very oddball team. If this expansion was to truly pattern itself with the Egyptian pantheon, the husband-wife teams of Osiris and Isis along with Set and Nephthys needs to be emphasized. Atum (Ra) was on top of the hierarchy. In this game’s case, Bolas is Lord here.

To play thematic decks is at the heart of why I’m revisiting Magic the Gathering. I immediately saw the ability to command legions of zombie jackals like in The Mummy Returns with the demi-god Scorpion King in control. Hour of Devastation offers proper cards of these monsters to make the idea of making this concept deck fun. Screw MtG deck archetypes! I know those two movies like the back of my hand and want to recreate that magic in a game. Toss in the perfect commander in my deck (either Imhotep, the reincarnation of Anck-Su-Namun or Scorpion) and Rick O’Connell can quiver in his boots.

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