Although some winged and scheming entity tried to keep this information secret, by now we know much more about the second expansion of the Amonkhet block. Because of the title of this set - the hour of devastation - we already knew that it would once again be about a very important turning point in the history of a world. In the first expansion of the block, the residents of Amonkhet tried to secure their promised place in an afterlife via various trials of the gods. Very much to the suffering of all involved, it turns out that the awaited God Pharaoh is not the amiable Creator of Amonkhet. The dragon planeswalker Nicol Bolas had been to Amonkhet sixty years ago. Back then he had massacred all of the grown-up population before extinguishing the memories of the gods and turning them into the administrators of his secret plan. Now he returns to take command of the elite zombie army, which was bred and trained on Amonkhet for decades. Whatever happens after this decisive Hour of Devastation, it will most likely be only an interim result, or the beginning of an even much longer planned intrigue of Nicol Bolas.
Let's take a closer look at the new and returning mechanics of the set. Most of them are natural evolutions of the mechanics already found in Amonkhet: Cycling, Exert and Embalm:
Already in the first set of this block we learned to appreciate the advantages of embalming. Although the embalmed creatures were useful servants in their second life, they were only meant to help continue the search for the best warriors. Now we get to know the zombie elite army, which Nicol Bolas has secretly been growing for decades. These chosen warriors are not only embalmed but eternalized. In principle, the Eternalize ability works very similar to Embalm, except that you do not get a white zombie token with the stats of the original creature, but a stronger one. Thanks to Nicol's special treatment these zombie tokens will always be 4/4 and completely black instead of their previous colors.
The inhabitants of Amonkhet did not know exactly, what they were training for. Whether they are particularly satisfied with their zombie existence as slaves of Nicol Bolas is uncertain. It is quite clear, however, that in their dark blue form they are quite efficient in spreading death and spoiling. Whenever they are blocked, Creatures with Afflict will result in a loss of life to the enemy. The amount of the life loss is indicated by the respective number behind the keyword Afflict. Just because you can throw a few creatures into the path of Bolas' undead army, this does not mean that you will be safe from taking damage.
The ability to exert a creature is already known from Amonkhet, the first set of the block carrying the same name. This ability is only receiving a small innovation in this set. So far, exerting was only applied when a creature was used to attack. These cases still exist on some Hour of Devastation cards, but there are also activated abilities, which require a creature to exert as a cost in addition to the tapping of the creature. All untapping rules remain the same, except that some creatures can now be exerted without attacking.
We are still in a desert world, and the devastation that will commence with the arrival of Nicol Bolas will not make this situation any better. Various desert lands could already be found in the Amonkhet set, and this will also be the case again in this set. In particular, the desert cards with Cycling can be twice as useful, because in Hour of Devastation there will be a number of cards that are more powerful when you have a desert on the field or in the graveyard.
The Aftermath and well-known Cycling abilities are still around and completely unchanged. For the sake of form, however, at least Aftermath should not remain completely unexplained.
Aftermath cards consist of two halves. You can only play the upper half as long as you have the card in hand. As soon as these cards enter the graveyard for any reason, you can only play the lower half. The lower half is played exactly like any other magic spell - just from the graveyard, and once that half is resolved or countered, the card is sent to exile. Thanks to the new card frame, this option can be easily be identified inside the graveyard by rotating the card counterclockwise by 90 degrees. That way it sticks out immediately.
Are you fed up with the idea of always saving all the worlds of the multiverse side by side with Gideon and Nissa? Then join the dark side instead. Nicol Bolas will teach you how even a desert world can be devastated even more in Hour of Devastation!