I don’t mean to sound like one of those people who does nothing but complain about every miniscule aspect of every decision that Wizards of the Coast has ever made (but yet still buys all of their cards), but I don’t really like Devotion as a mechanic. It’s a perfectly fine mechanic design wise; it’s just that it’s not a very fun, interesting, or interactive to play with or against. Especially the way that devotion decks are set up now: decks like Mono Black, Mono Blue, Boros Devotion, and G/R Monsters are more focused on the order in which they play their cards to maximize devotion as opposed to interacting much with their opponent’s board. Sure, the black deck plays removal and the G/R deck has Polukranos and all that jazz, but at the end of the day it’s about windmill slamming Grey Merchants, making a bajillion mana with Nykthos, and turning your Thassa online and swinging unblockable.
Devotion is also a hard mechanic to fight. There’s only one really good board wipe right now (Planar Cleansing and Merciless Eviction can suck it), and it’s only available to U/W/X decks with consistent enough mana bases. Anger of the Gods is cool, but it doesn’t hit a lot of the stuff that needs to be hit, like Desecration Demon. And what to do about those pesky Underworld Connections, that are drawing them a bunch of cards? Whoever jams more devotion wins in this Standard, and it’s an uphill battle for the person on the other side of the table.
Being a deck building nut and a self-proclaimed rogue deck pilot, I’ve been hard at work, plotting ideas to combat the meta. My first idea was a Naya Hexproof deck, which I actually made way before the TCG Player article highlighting it. My deck was a bit different too, and I think better. This deck was insanely good against Mono Black, and could hold its own against a wide variety of other decks too. In fact, I piloted it to very positive records at small-time local events near where I live, not to mention a version similar to mine took second at a Grand Prix in Japan. However, I’m not sure about it now with Devour Flesh picking up in popularity. What I liked about Naya Hexproof was that the creatures were not easily removed. Also, since I was jamming Madcap Skills like a god damn pro, it had evasion, which I always loved whenever I saw it.
I took these ideas to heart when brewing my latest deck. The first version of this deck was something of a nod to The Aristocrats of late Innistrad block, which did very horribly at a local Standard event. I realized that attrition couldn’t be possible (outside crazy Bogbrew shenanigans, and I don’t wanna go there…) without something like Blood Artist and changed the deck up significantly.
What I ended up with is what I present to you today. Is it Junk Aggro? Kind of. It runs a lot of aggressive cards, however, I think it’s better described as Junk Hate Bears. Take a look at the list, and maybe you’ll see what I’m talking about:
Junk Hate Bears
4 Solider of the Pantheon
2 Imposing Sovereign
4 Cartel Aristocrat
4 Voice of Resurgence
3 Lotleth Troll
4 Xathrid Necromancer
4 Varolz, the Scar-Striped
3 Desecration Demon
2 Ready // Willing
3 Abrupt Decay
2 Hero’s Downfall
4 Temple Garden
4 Overgrown Tomb
4 Godless Shrine
2 Golgari Guildgate
4 Temple of Silence
1 Orzhov Guildgate
3 Golgari Charm
2 Dark Betrayal
3 Mistcutter Hydra
2 Bloodbaron of Vizkopa
2 Obzedat, Ghost Council
1 Abrupt Decay
I know this deck list is a little experimental, so I’m going to explain every card choice right now just to clear the air. It wouldn’t be a rogue deck without some head-turners, right?
Let’s start with the creatures. We want a powerful one drop, preferably a hate bear with evasion, protection, or some added cool effect. Soldier of the Pantheon fills this slot perfectly, and he’s even a human, so he can be buds with Xathrid Necromancer. The life gain on this guy can be pretty relevant, especially in a tempo-ish kind of deck like this. In testing, I’ve found that he is a house against any sort of red aggro, because he can block most of their curve for days: Frostburn Weird, Burning-Tree Emissary, Boros Reckoner. Not to mention we’ll gain life every time they cast one of those guys! Also, he’s pretty good against U/W/x control because he can’t be Detention Sphered or Azorious Charmed away.
Moving onto the two drops, for one, there are a lot of them. It wouldn’t be Hate Bears without tons of bears, after all. Well, as you can clearly see there are a playset of Voices in here. It’s perfect for this deck: it’s hateful, it’s annoying, and it has a second life, making it a great sacrifice target if need be. I don’t really feel like I need to sing Voices praises. Cartel Aristocrat is arguably our main threat. Scavenging things onto Cartel with Varolz and then swinging unblockable is really where this deck wants to be. Consider the fact that most decks right now rely on creatures that all share a color. Cartel Aristocrat can also make insane blocks and pull off some crazy plays. Whenever I played Aristocrats, I loved the ability to declare a blocker and then sac it away (assuming it was going to chump anyway) to protect my Cartel. Cartel Aristocrat is an interactive card, and can be used to pull off some ludicrous maneuvers. There’s also Lotleth Trolls in here. An unanswered Lotleth Troll can get out of control, especially if Regenerate mana is left open at all times. The Troll is also nice because late-game irrelevant cards (like a Soldier off the top or another Varolz that you can’t play) can be pitched to make a bigger threat or an even better blocker. Finally, closing out the two drops, we’ve got two Imposing Sovereigns. They fit the theme, and they’re humans, which is an added plus. They can also keep any annoying blockers, like Desecration Demon or Boros Reckoner, tapped down for a turn, which can help keep tempo.
Moving on up, we’ve got a full playset of Varolz. Yes, a full playset. Thing is, in most decks he can be underwhelming. But in this particular deck, he’s a bomb. Take all those little, efficient creatures you’ve been playing and sacing the whole game and turn them into unblockable damage on your Cartel Aristocrat! He also has Regenerate, which is neat, and is another sac outlet. We’re also rocking a set of Xathrids, mainly for the extra life that he gets. He can potentially go crazy nuts with your other humans, but even just getting two creatures for one card is pretty good, especially when you need creatures to sac to the Cartel. Finally, we’ve three Desecration Demon. Unlike most of our creatures, he can have a big impact on the board all on his own. He’s a threat that demands to be answered, and if he isn’t can lead to quick wins for us. Consider the synergy between the Demon and Ready // Willing. After they sac a guy to tap him down, we can ruin their potential combat with an untapped, indestructible monster sized Demon. Also, if they fail to tap him down, we can give out big demon lifelink (and less relevantly, deathtouch). The Demon also has synergy with Varolz. Putting six +1/+1 counters on a Cartel Aristocrat and swinging in for at least eight protected damage for the low, low cost of four mana is an easy way to end a game. My first version of the list had Dregg Mangler, which works fine as a budget option, because he has his own scavenge just in case you don’t see a Varolz. But, for a finished list I think I like the Demons a little more.
Now onto the instants and sorceries. Yeah, two Thoughtseizes. Why not? Sure, some removal, that’s cool. Now onto the main attraction here:
READY AND WILLING
I’m ready and willing to say that this card is pretty undervalued. Maybe it’s because not many people are jamming Junk right now, but in this deck it’s nuts. Realistically you can only cast one half at a time, but that’s really all you need. On the Ready side, getting to swing in, untap, and make crazy blocks in your tempo deck seems good. Or you can protect yourself from a boardwipe. On the Willing side, gaining a whole bunch of life and potentially devouring big creatures alive with your bears in your tempo deck also seems great. Remember Vault of the Arch Angel? I’ve come back many a time from that lifelink/deathtouch. Really, this card is just good for the deck.Unfortunately I haven’t seen it that much in testing, being a mere two of. If the card over-performs like I think it will, I may bump it up to three.
And then there’s lands. This deck really wants those green/black and green/white Scry lands, but fortunately it will be getting them soon. Also, the mana might not be perfect (I’m not a math wiz), but I haven’t had that much trouble with it yet. A lot of the lands come in tapped, but it’s relatively easy to play around. I’m not too worried about the mana base, but if someone can come up with a better number crunch I’d be sure to use that instead. Also important to remember in a deck like this is that the mana may be somewhat clunky at times, but the deck can easily stall until it can play what it wants to play. You don’t need to play Soldier turn one and be aggressive, though the deck certainly can do that as well. Sure, it’s nice to curve out, but a deck like this that can stall, stabilize, and then come back from behind doesn’t necessarily need a one-drop, a two-drop, and a three-drop in that order. Although, like I said, it can do that as well. What I’ve noticed about this mana base is that it’s important to play the right land at the right time, considering the options you have in your hand. I guess the same could be said about any deck, but I feel it’s especially important here.
Finally let’s move on to the sideboard. We’re rocking Golgari Charms against control, with the destroy enchantment being good against stuff like Detention Sphere, and the Regenerate ‘countering’ a Supreme Verdict. Golgari Charm can also go in against Mono Blue potentially, killing their dorks and Master of Waves, or destroying their Bident of Thassa. There’s Mistcutters in here too, which can also go in against Mono Blue or control. A couple more Thoughtseizes as well, for whenever you want them, particularly against something like Mono Black and their ‘Oops, I win’ Merchants. Blood Baron is also for Mono Black, and against anything else he’s good against that you might run into. Blood Baron is amazing against Mono Black in a deck like this, because he’s damn near impossible to hit with a Devour Flesh due to our overwhelming amount of bears. There’s also Dark Betrayal here for Mono Black specifically. I’m also running a couple Obzedats, because like Blood Baron, he’s a bomb, but he’s good against different decks. I’d throw in Obzedat against anything without tons of instant speed removal. Finally, there’s another Abrupt Decay, for whenever you might need it. This deck sideboards very differently on the play and on the draw, depending on the deck you’re up against. If the deck picks up at all, I will definitely be writing a “How To Sideboard” guide as well.
The best way to describe this deck is that it’s a pretty aggressive deck with a bunch of Hate Bears and hard to deal with threats that have synergy with one another. Instead of building devotion with each of our plays, like most decks in the meta, this deck builds synergy and value with every spell that it plays. Also, this deck is also not very easy to run. There are many decisions, and one false move can result in a punted game. Even something so seemingly simple as where to put the counters on a Varolz scavenge can be challenging and mind-bending. But, if we’re being honest, that’s why I love this deck so much. Unlike Devotion decks, it makes me think when I’m playing it, and it’s that much more satisfying when it all comes together just as I planned or I can outwit my opponent.
I’m definitely open to suggestions on this deck, and would love to see what other people think. Proxy the deck up and give it a try before potentially building it, because it’s not cheap whatsoever and it’s not a deck for everyone due to its difficulty curve. But I think players like me that loved The Aristocrats and other thought-intensive decks will be happily surprised that they can play such an interaction heavy deck in “Devotion: the Format.”
Let me know what you think. Until next time!