Want to learn about the coolest and most awesome deck in Standard right now?
Did you answer yes?
Are you nodding and smiling as you read this?
If you answered yes to all of those questions, this deck is just what you need. I just got back from an Invitational Qualifier where I lost my win-and-in round to fellow StarCityGames.com columnist and friend Anthony Lowry, who was playing a very aggressive Mono-Red Aggro deck. Normally I wouldn't think too much of it, but I really feel if you want to become better at Magic, analyzing your deck choice, mulligan decisions, sideboarding, and in-game play is very important to becoming a better and more experienced player. As I try to grind Open Points for the SCG Players' Championship, I sit and think:
"What went wrong today?"
Was it bad luck? Was my deck not exactly on point? Did I misplay?
Well, it's tough to really answer that question.
Two weeks ago I was fervently studying the Standard metagame, as I felt that most players wouldn't really bring anything new to the last couple of tournaments before Journey into Nyx. I thought this would be a good time to design another deck that could really attack the metagame and help me catch Chris Van Meter in the Season Two race for the SCG Players' Championship. However, instead of creating a new deck from scratch, I decided that I was going to put a twist on one of the most powerful decks in Standard to see what would happen. The deck I chose to play around with was Mono-Black Devotion.
I liked the concept of the deck, and it has proven to be one of the best decks in the format for a while now. However, I noticed a decent amount of holes in the deck that other players were definitely picking up on. A weakness to Blood Baron of Vizkopa, Detention Sphere, and cheap removal like Dark Betrayal and Bile Blight can make navigating Mono-Black Devotion through a tournament a difficult endeavor. Despite those weaknesses, I knew I still wanted to play Mono-Black Devotion and figured branching out to play additional colors might be just what I was looking for.
Since Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver was released, it has quickly became my new favorite planeswalker. I've played Ashiok in Standard, Modern, and Legacy, and almost every time I've had it in play regardless of the format, it has overperformed. Right after Pro Tour Theros, I put together a Mono-Black Devotion deck that splashed blue for Ashiok and Far // Away. I liked the deck a lot, but it struggled against certain decks and certain cards.
For example, Detention Sphere was great against it since its best threats (Pack Rat, Underworld Connections, and Ashiok) all can be removed by it. Blood Baron of Vizkopa was also problematic, and I wanted to have an additional answer to it besides the standard sacrifice effects much in the same way B/W Midrange has an additional answer in Elspeth, Sun's Champion.
After a lot of testing, I felt that Esper Control and Mono-Blue Devotion were not very good matchups. I was asking a lot from that configuration of the deck. I wanted a great answer to both Detention Sphere and Blood Baron of Vizkopa while also having an efficient threat that I could sideboard into that would give Esper Control and Mono-Blue Devotion headaches. Those things could not be provided in just blue and black, so I had to add an additional color: green. Green gave me access to Abrupt Decay to answer Detention Sphere and Underworld Connections as well as allowed me to get to the late game against aggressive strategies. It also gave me access to two additional powerful planeswalkers in Kiora, the Crashing Wave and Vraska the Unseen.
Kiora was a great answer to Blood Baron but also served the purpose of being a powerful card that people had to care about while Vraska gave me another answer to Detention Sphere and other hard to deal with permanents. Finally, green provides access to the ultimate headache for blue-based strategies available in the format in Mistcutter Hydra. Mistcutter Hydra is so good out of a Mono-Black Devotion strategy because even if an Esper Control deck has access to Doom Blade, it's unlikely that they'll leave it in their deck for sideboarded games. Additionally, against Mono-Blue Devotion it provides an excellent threat or defender that can come down whenever you choose due to the X in its casting cost.
All of these things led me to this decklist:
The list performed very well for me at the IQ. I was able to defeat Esper Control, U/W Devotion, G/R Monsters, and B/W Midrange over the course of the tournament. As the day went on, I learned more and more as each round passed. The big lesson learned was that my plan against Mono-Black Devotion should be based around boarding out almost all my creatures and winning with card advantage through Underworld Connections and planeswalkers.
The main strengths of this deck is that it follows in the footsteps of the powerful Mono-Black Devotion shell but branches out to close up any holes in the deck. As I mentioned earlier, Abrupt Decay is one of the best removal spells in the format since it removes what's important and isn't a dead draw like Bile Blight and Doom Blade are in many matchups. Casting Abrupt Decay isn't too hard to do since you have access to eight green sources in Overgrown Tomb and Temple of Mystery. And while eight might not seem like many, with eight Temples and Underworld Connections you have a good chance to find whatever you need when the time comes.
The deck does have some weaknesses when facing off against any hyperaggressive red deck. To combat this and to tighten up the list a bit, I made some changes since the IQ and suggest you run this version of the deck at the Standard Open in Detroit if you're attending:
The sideboard also gets a nice boost with the additional colors. Mistcutter Hydra, Vraska the Unseen, Golgari Charm, and Notion Thief all play very important roles in different matchups. It makes sideboarding much more difficult for your opponent as well since they will be unaware of what to expect from your deck. The slight changes that I made will help in your bad matchups since an early Pharika's Cure can make all the difference when facing a mono-red opponent.
Ignoring the addition of Pharika's Cure, Duress really shines against many of the popular decks in Standard right now. You only really lose a couple of copies of Lifebane Zombie to fit it in, which looks to be a safe omission given that G/R Monsters is already a good matchup for you and the combination of Kiora, the Crashing Wave and Devour Flesh really help fight against Blood Baron of Vizkopa.
Once Journey into Nyx comes out, Standard will get shaken up a fair amount. Decks will change quite a bit as players try out new cards, which will force your card choices to change as well. I could see Lifebane Zombie being a four-of or cut entirely depending on how popular white and green creatures become. I could also see the number of Duress in the decklist varying wildly in both the maindeck and the sideboard. All that being said, we do get some new cards to mess around with.
Temple of Malady is the most obvious one, as it will make the mana of the deck much better than it ever has been. There's a chance you want to play as many as nine Temples now, but I think it's more likely that it remains at eight and you make a 3-3-2 split.
Another card that really caught my eye is Pharika, God of Affliction. Any three-mana God is something looking into, and although Pharika's ability may look weak, there's definitely some merit to giving her a try. It might mean adding more creatures to the deck. For example, Pack Rat works very well with Pharika at providing devotion and creatures to remove from the graveyard.
Disciple of Deceit seems to be a very powerful card and would be a great early play for the deck. The mana would have to be changed to fit it in and have it consistently come down on turn 2, but if it did, I could see it really making waves in a midrange style deck like this.
I truly feel that this deck will give you a very strong chance to win any Standard tournament before Journey into Nyx rotates into the format. The deck is powerful, consistent, and attacks from many different angles. If you already played Mono-Black Devotion in Standard, then the switch to this deck will be pretty simple. The deck plays out pretty much the same way, just with a few more options and sideboard choices. If you are as excited about this deck as I am, share your thoughts! I really enjoy when new decks make a splash in Standard, even when it is before a new set comes out to shake things up for everyone.
Before I go, I want to give a big shout out to fellow writer and friend Frank Skarren, as he won his second Limited Grand Prix last weekend in Philadelphia. Frank often writes interesting Limited articles that can also help improve your Constructed game. I say that because when a new set comes out, there will oftentimes be a fringe Constructed card that doesn't automatically get picked up until you play with it in Limited to see its true raw power.
Remember when a new set first comes out that every card should be given a shot. Let's just hope some of those cards make BUG Devotion even better!