When you look at standard right now there is such a wide variety of decks it is almost mind boggling. I don’t think there has been a time in recent memory where such a variety of decks were on the table and every single one had the potential to actually take down a big tournament, win a PTQ, or 4-0 on MTGO. Black Devotion, Blue Devotion, Green Devotion, Red Devotion, BW Midrange, Jund Superfriends, GW Aggro, Naya Aggro, UW Control, Rabble Red, Bant Superfriends , Boros Burn, RW Aggro, the list goes on and on my friends. But in such a wide format it is still unique to see that two strong concepts stand out; Devotion and Planeswalkers. By the numbers Monoblue Devotion and Monoblack Devotion are the strongest decks in Standard and they have been since the days of Pro Tour Theros.
When neither deck managed to make an appearance in the Top 8 of Pro Tour Magic 2015, a lot of people actually thought that it was the signal that a new era of standard was about to begin that would feature a severe decrease in the success of devotion based decks. The GP Utrecht happened which saw three Monoblue Devotion decks in Top 8 included two in the finals. StarCity Open in Dallas was also owned by Monoblue Devotion with 4 Decks in the Top 8 and three in the Top 4. At both of these events Monoblack Devotion had a decent turn out with Top 8 and Top 16 appearances and for the first time Monogreen Devotion also managed to maneuver its way onto the board with Top 16 appearances.
This means one very important things for people who are playing standard, Devotion is certainly not dead. For the past two weeks I have had tremendous results on MTGO running UR Devotion racking up a nice 27-5 record in Tournament play (Dailies and 8 Mans) and during that time I’ve continued to run into my fair share of other devotion decks. Devotion primers have been beaten into our heads pretty hard for the past year and they have been done by much better players then me. So I thought this week we would take a look at Devotion and ask the question, what does Khans of Tarkir need to provide us to see devotion decks survive in what looks like will be a strong tri-color format.
We will take a look at the odds of Monoblue, Monoblack, and RW Devotion surviving the rotation; if Monogreen might become more powerful after the rotation, and if there is any shot of Monowhite Devotion entering into the fray.
4 Cloudfin Raptor
4 Frostburn Weird
4 Judge's Familiar
4 Master of Waves
4 Nightveil Specter
4 Thassa, God of the Sea
4 Tidebinder Mage
2 Cyclonic Rift
3 Rapid Hybridization
1 Jace, Living Guildpact
1 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
2 Bident of Thassa
1 Jace, Living Guild Pact
1 Jace, Architect of Thought
If you play standard then you’ve seen this deck in one form or another. You may have seen it with a bit of a different spell base and sideboard, or seen a version that splashes red or white, or even runs a different set of Jace’s. Monoblue Devotion however is known from the creature base that it runs; when you see that turn one Cloudfin Raptor or Judge’s Familiar you know exactly what is on the other side of the table and exactly the type of match that you are in for. Being one of the most dominate decks in Standard for almost a year with a barely altered decklist should have many people asking, what is next for this deck that defines current standard.
Well first for you devoted to devotion blue players, the good news. Thassa, God of the Sea and Master of Waves the decks primary two win conditions are very much intact when Khans is released in October. Now the bad news as Monoblue Devotion will be saying goodbye (barring an unlikely reprint) to Cloudfin Raptor, Judge’s Familiar, Frostburn Weird, Nightveil Specter, Tidebinder Mage, Cyclonic Rift, Domestication, Rapid Hybridization, Mutavault, and Jace, Architect of Thought. If that seems like a pretty daunting list, well you are right. In shorter terms a playset of Master of Waves, Thassa, God of the Sea, a singleton Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, and a mitt full of Islands are all that survive the mainboard rotation.
Is that a survivable rotation? Probably not! Jace, Architect of Thought can easily be switched out for Jace, Living Guild Pact, some counter spells could possibly move their way into mainboard, Hypnotic Siren offers a one drop flyer with late game plus side, Mindreaver could come in as a potential two drop with double blue mana cost, Wall of Frost brings a slow two blue turn three drop to the table but from creature base you are then spent in getting those very important mana symbols on the table. With Bident moved to main board and the options of some potential enchantment trickery with Invisibility and Encrust there might be some options on the table to make a much slower control type version of the deck.
The reality is though that to truly survive Khans of Tarkir is going to have to provide some very good creatures that cost double blue mana in the two or three drop area. The outlook is bleak at its brightest.
4 Desecration Demon
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
4 Lifebane Zombie
4 Pack Rat
2 Bile Blight
4 Devour Flesh
4 Hero's Downfall
1 Ultimate Price
4 Underworld Connections
3 Temple of Deciet
2 Bile Blight
2 Dark Betrayal
4 Doom Blade
2 Erebos, God of the Dead
1 Pithing Needle
Monoblack Devotion is the other deck that is known by many. It can arguably be said that it is the most powerful performer overall in Standard over the past year, even if it lacks as many high profile wins as Monoblue Devotion. This deck is a nightmare for people who like to play creatures as it will almost always have an answer and is good at keeping its hand high, even when it runs its own life total low. With Gray Merchant of Asphodel safe from the rotation, the entire reason this deck is called devotion is actually quite safe. Control wise Bile Blight, Hero’s Downfall, Thoughtseize, and Dark Betrayl aren’t going anywhere.
The deck does lose some very important pieces, perhaps none bigger than Pack Rat and Underworld Connections. Pack Rat was a solid win condition for this deck and a nightmare for opponents, while Underworld Connections is perhaps the most hated enchantment in Standard, providing great devotion count and card advantage. These two cards are a rare breed and are not likely to see replacements in Khans of Tarkir. The deck also loses Desecration Demon and Lifebane Zombie from the creature front while the control front sees Devour Flesh, Ultimate Price, Doom Blade, and Duress move on.
The creature loss provides an interest opportunity for cards like Cruel Sadist and Master of Feasts to play a role in the deck, with someone maybe looking at cards like Squelching Leeches, Insatiable Harpy, or Disciple of Phenax. The positive thing is that Monoblack has creatures that it can certainly experiment with right now and Khans of Tarkir is certain to provide it with one or two creatures it could also probably bring in. On the spell front, Monoblack has a wide range of options to experiment with. Ulcerate, Feast of Dreams, Pharika’s Cure, Asphyxiate, and Drown in Sorrow provide removal options while Read the Bones and Sign in Blood are still around for draw options. Pithing Needle can also be replaced by Phyrexian Revoker if need be.
Monoblack Devotion would truly like to see two really good cards from Khans of Tarkir that can offset the loss of Pack Rat and Underworld Connections. You can be sure that they will get some sort of removal spell to put in the deck and they may even begin to look at Liliana Vess, or splashing for Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver or Garruk, Apex Predator. If they splash they will certainly add Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth into the deck as well. Overall Monoblack devotion is in a much stronger position to survive rotation than Monoblue Devotion is, but unless Khans of Tarkir releases some powerful cards it could take a step backwards in power and efficiency. Losing Pack Rat and Underworld Connections are big.
In understanding the Monogreen Devotion deck (or the GU, GB, GW, GR variants) it is important to note that devotion is mainly being used for Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx in this deck. Nylea is nice but she doesn’t need to be online for her trample or pump abilities and Nylea’s Disciple is a great sideboard card that is very anti-aggro. Now in that entire list above the only missing cards after rotation are Burning-Tree Emissary, Garruck, Caller of Beasts and Sylvan Primordial, this entire list stays intact outside of those cards making this Devotion deck the most intact deck so far. The catch is, while Monogreen and the splashed variants of the deck are popular, they have yet to start placing. Being they are so good in the aggro match-up it is actually quite shocking.
Losing the Burning-Tree Emissary is a blow not because of the double green mana symbol, but more so because of the mana generating ability that really ramps the deck. This will make the deck run a bit slower, but Swordwise Centaur slips in nicely already as an effective 3/2 threat for double green, and Wall of Mulch provides a solid stall card with great cantrip even if the symbols don’t quite match up. Eidolon of Blossoms is another popular card in this deck and main decking more Nylea’s Disciple’s is always an option. The deck doesn’t really replace Garruk without splashing into another color, but could certainly just look at upping the Nissa, Worldwaker count, bring in a Nylea’s Bow, or even just upping the Nylea, God of the Hunt count herself. Monogreen has overwhelming options as is without even looking at Khans of Tarkir and what the set might bring to the table. It also appears to be the most splashable deck with GW, GR, GU seeing major play and an off shoot of GB sometimes making an appearance.
The best thing about rotation for Monogreen is knocking down the Blue and Black Devotion decks. It has issues dealing with Pack Rat and the removal of Black and it can free up more sideboard spots if they don’t need to run the playset of Mistcutter Hydras to deal with Blue Devotion. Green Devotion will survive and will be a strategy that is possibly even powered up by Khans of Tarkir, it is just a question of if it will become a strategy that makes the climb to the top of the charts.
RW Devotion and White Devotion
For these two decks I am taking a bit of a different approach as I won’t be bringing you lists for them. RW Devotion has had very fringe success and is much less popular then Green Devotion, but with rotation comes the loss of Ash Zealot, Boros Reckoner, Burning-Tree Emissary, Frostburn Weird, Boros Charm, Mizzium Mortars, and Sacred Foundry. Like Blue Devotion this seems like almost too much for the deck to come back from. Zealot and Emissary were key to putting early pressure while providing mana symbols, Reckoner was just a boss card to begin with, and the Sacred Foundry made playing Chained to the Rocks a much more possible feature. Mizzium Mortars is gone for mass removal and the nice Assemble the Legion and Aurelia’s Fury tricks will be gone. Even if the deck ran over to monored it would gain some burn, the addition of Eidolon of the Great Revel which is just as harmful to it and just doesn’t have the power to stay Devotion based.
Khans of Tarkir would have to provide a multitude of new deck options for Red Devotion for it to become a viable deck option, which is pretty hard since it wasn’t doing well in the first place. The same could be said for White Devotion, which has been pretty near invisible in the format. Let me explain why very quickly, there are no White Devotion cards worth playing. Heliod, God of the Sun is probably the most unplayable god, Acolyte’s Reward is a dead card if your board is wiped, Evangel of Heliod costs 6 mana, is only a 1/3 and is just too slow. I will admit surprise that Iroas, God of Victory didn’t see more play in RW decks as it basically acts as a four mana enchantment that prevents damage to attacking creatures while giving them evasion, solid for an aggressive strategy, but overall that is all White “devotion” is good for; the splash Gods it is associated with.
For White Devotion it is very much like Red and Blue where it doesn’t really have the mana symbol creatures left after rotation to make it viable. Khans of Tarkir could create a viable White Devotion deck, but in another way; if it were to run like Monogreen and base it off of using Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx as opposed to devotion based creatures. But I would hand my hat on those odds, and not even my lightest hat.
So for all of those who are into Devotion, love the mechanic, and have enjoyed playing your decks Khans of Tarkir will likely be a sad day. After all the spoilers are out, maybe we can return and look at this article and see if I am completely off base, but since the set seems to be based around the tri-color format it is highly unlikely it will provide consistently powerful devotion cards. Which leaves it likely that a crippled Monoblack and a barely touched Monogreen devotion are the only two likely to survive the cycle, which means a toppling of the giant that has been Blue Devotion and fringe deck lovers in the red and white spectrum are about to be disappointed in under two months’ time.
Until next time this has been Searching Standard with Josh Bickle.