My basic business model has always been, "write what you know," which is the best advice I know for any writer. Sometimes, this can get me into a bit of trouble, but it's definitely worth it for me in the long term. I've spent most of the last week playing G/W Devotion. I'd kind of hoped to write about something else to keep a few tricks for Grand Prix Miami, but nothing really presented itself, and this is what I know.
I think this deck is great.
As I've mentioned in the past, I've been working on trying to find the best shell for Mastery of the Unseen, which is a card I've just been incredibly impressed by every time I've played with it. The card is fascinating to build with, because it can pull a deck in several directions. On the face of it, as a Mobilization-style enchantment that fills a role originally pioneered by Kjeldoran Outpost, it would make sense to put it into a control deck. In general, control decks play more turns, and having a durable threat that lets them sink mana in at instant speed can make this an excellent finisher for a control deck. On the other hand, manifesting isn't just making a 2/2 token. You get a lot of value if you can flip that into a good creature, and beyond that, Mastery of the Unseen's lifegain text can be amazingly relevant if you have a lot of creatures. This drives you to put it in a creature deck, or to add creatures to a control deck that uses it.
Beyond that, it's an excellent way to use a lot of mana, so it's best in decks that can generate a lot of mana in the first place.
U/W Control with Mastery of the Unseen is definitely a deck I've been interested in. I think it does some things that make it substantially better than the other finishers control decks are using, but I honestly still haven't even gotten around to trying it because focusing on the other side of Mastery of the Unseen has worked so well for me.
Green Devotion has a lot of creatures and lot of mana, and Mastery of the Unseen plays beautifully with Courser of Kruphix (except that it lets your opponent know what your manifests are)--if you're about to draw a creature, you can manifest in your upkeep so that you can be sure you'll be able to flip it to gain life. If you haven't played a land, and a nonland is on top of your deck, you can manifest to dig for a land. Any time a land is on top of your deck, you can play it to try to get to a creature to manifest. It's all just great, much like Courser of Kruphix with anything else that can change the top card of your library, but even better than most.
Aside from Green Devotion being a great home for Mastery of the Unseen, I've found that Mastery really shores a bunch of Green Devotion's weaknesses. Most importantly, it lets you rebuild from sweepers, including Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, but the lifegain is also huge. It lets you get out of burn range against red and ignore evasive threats you might otherwise have to race like fliers or heroic creatures with Aqueous Form. Beyond that, I've found that in most midgames, I can just ignore any attack, which allows me to build up my board rather than trading with my opponent's creatures, which lets me go a lot bigger than I would otherwise be able to.
I never know when to actually get to a list when I'm talking about a deck, so let's get that out of the way:
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Genesis Hydra
- 1 Nylea's Disciple
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 1 Temur Sabertooth
- 4 Voyaging Satyr
- 4 Whisperwood Elemental
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 4 Polukranos, World Eater
- 1 Nylea, God of the Hunt
I've gone through several iterations, of course, but this is what I'm currently playing on Magic Online. I used to have planeswalkers main, but they didn't play well with my strategy of ignoring attacks, and Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Ajani, Mentor of Heroes just weren't really what I wanted to be doing. I already had the ground covered and I generally had inevitability, so Elspeth didn't add much, and Mastery of the Unseen gives me the mana sink Ajani's offering. My creatures are already big enough that the counters don't do much.
What I like most about this deck compared to other Green Devotion decks is that none of my spells cost more than five mana. Yes, I'd like six or seven for Genesis Hydra, but if I don't have that, it's not stuck in my hand. This means I don't end up with dead cards I can't cast when my early mana creatures die, my midgame is strong, and Genesis Hydra for five hits everything in my deck, so it's going to be spicier than the same size hydra would be in other Green Devotion decks.
Compared to the Naya deck I recorded with last week, I do miss Xenagos, the Reveler's explosive power and strength against control, but I found that I was boarding it out against red decks, and I'm beating control decks anyway, and cutting red lets me have extra white sources in my deck, which makes me much better at using Mastery of the Unseen multiple times in a turn. I do miss Crater's Claws, but I think the extra white sources are worth it.
One important thing Crater's Claws was doing was making it easier for me to beat Elspeth, Sun's Champion. To help address that, Banishing Light and Nylea, God of the Hunt have been added as cards that can beat an Elspeth (the most common answer is still just activating Polukranos, World Eater to kill the tokens and then attacking, or just overwhelming it).
What makes this deck really special, to my mind is that, despite having a lower curve, I think my end game is better than other Green Devotion decks. Nothing goes as big as Mastery of the Unseen. I believe I've beaten a resolved Ugin, the Spirit Dragon more often than I've lost to it with this deck. I'm constantly amazed by just how many powerful cards this deck can beat.
Four Mastery of the Unseen seems like a lot, but you have to understand that having multiples in play is actually quite good at a certain point. Sometimes in the midgame I'll have 4-6 creatures and 2-3 Mastery of the Unseens, and flipping a creature gains enough life that the opponent can't possibly kill you before you can go even bigger. I once played a game where I ignored an attack by Pharika, God of Affliction, Wingmate Roc, the bird token, Siege Rhino, and several 1/1 deathtouch snakes for several turns in a row by just (massively) outpacing it with lifegain.
Whisperwood Elemental is absolutely essential to this deck. It makes beating sweepers trivial, and manifests creatures on its own, which can become cheap sources of huge lifegain with Mastery of the Unseen even when you never have time to activate it. This is one of the most Timmy-friendly decks I've ever played; a deck capable of generating massive turns and huge blowouts, a strategy that's all about generating feelings, and despite that, the best feeling I have with this deck is still any time my opponent taps out and I can play a Whisperwood Elemental, then I'm guaranteed a manifest. It might not seem like much, but it feels so hard to lose any time that happens.
I've seen several Green Devotion decks shave a mana creature, but I'm playing the full twelve without hesitation. The mana is just so good with Mastery of the Unseen that I'm never really worried about flooding. I'd be much more likely to add Karametra's Acolyte than to cut a cheap mana creature.
My deck is four singleton spells and eight spells I'm playing four-of. The fours are pretty straightforward, they're just the best cards in my deck (though I could see cutting a Polukranos, World Eater or a Genesis Hydra). I've mentioned the Banishing Light and Nylea, God of the Hunt as answers to Elspeth, Sun's Champion, which really is their primary function, though obviously both serve other purposes. The last two singletons are Disciple of Nylea and Temur Sabertooth.
Nylea's Disciple is a regular inclusion in Green Devotion decks but usually in the sideboard. This might be a relic of playing on Magic Online, where mono red aggressive decks are everywhere, but despite the fact that I can gain a lot of life going long with Mastery of the Unseen, I've found myself wanting something to come down earlier to bridge the gap against any red deck, and I've been happy enough with my positioning against control decks that I think I can afford it. It might not be worth playing in the real world though.
Temur Sabertooth was added at Gerry Thompson's suggestion (like Banishing Light). I was skeptical at first, because I don't have Hornet Queen to return, and I already have Mastery of the Unseen as a mana sink, but between Mastery of the Unseen and Genesis Hydra, this deck can find its singletons in the lategame pretty often, and Temur Sabertooth adds a different dimension to the deck. It offers excellent insurance against sweepers, which is nice, but the real value is in reusing Polukranos, World Eater, and to a lesser extent (oddly), Genesis Hydra or Nylea's Disciple. It also works with Reclamation Sage out of the sideboard.
Around 40% of my matches on Magic Online have been with the Naya version of this deck, but to show you how this deck has been doing, here are my results with the G/W version on Magic Online (a mix of 8 player queues and daily events, no two player queues):
2-0 v Abzan Control
1-2 v Mono-Red Aggro
1-2 v R/W Aggro
2-1 v Mardu
2-1 v R/W
2-1 v Waste Not
1-2 v W/U Heroic
2-0 v U/B Control
2-0 v Sultai Reanimator
2-0 v W/B control
2-0 v Jeskai Tokens
2-0 v G/R Devotion
2-0 v Mono-Red Aggro
0-2 v Abzan Aggro
2-0 v Abzan Control
0-2 v Abzan Control
2-0 v Abzan Reanimator
2-1 v R/G Aggro
2-0 v W/B Tokens
2-1 v Abzan Aggro
2-1 v Temur Devotion
2-0 v R/W Aggro
2-1 v G/R Devotion
2-1 v W/U Heroic
1-2 v Mono-Red Aggro
0-2 v Abzan Control
1-2 v Mono-Red Aggro
1-2 v Mono-Red Heroic
2-0 v Sultai Control
2-0 v Sultai Reanimator
1-0 v Abzan Reanimator (He conceded the match after asking for my decklist)
2-0 v Temur
2-0 v Temur Planeswalker Control
0-2 v R/W Aggro
0-2 v R/W Aggro
1-2 v Sultai Control
2-0 v Green Devotion
2-1 v Abzan Control
2-0 v U/B Control
2-1 v U/B Control
2-0 v Sultai Control
0-1 v Abzan Control (timed out)
*Losses are in bold
That's a total record of 30-13, certainly worse than when I was 20-5, but still respectable. I've highlighted the losses for obvious reasons--they tell me where I might need work, or why I might not want to play this deck, so let's go over them.
I've lost four matches to mono-red aggressive decks. I've beaten it twice. This matchup feels like it should be good, as I have big creatures and lifegain, and my deck was slightly less hateful (the third Hornet Nest and Arashin Cleric are recent additions to my sideboard) for these matches. The problem is that they tend to get in enough early damage while killing my mana creatures that they can just attack around my big creatures and burn me out. More copies of the cards that are great here definitely help a lot, but I don't know if it's actually worth addressing for a physical tournament, as I never seen anywhere near as much red as there is on Magic Online.
I've lost three matches to R/W Aggro. I've beaten it twice. This is a similar problem. They have a little less pressure but better answers. Valorous Stance in particular is a huge problem, and my opponents always seem to draw multiples. Again, I hope more Hornet Nests will help here, but they're not as good as they are against Mono-Red. There's a lot of tension in the matchup, in that if I bring in too many defensive cards I risk losing to Outpost Siege and Stormbreath Dragon. I'm not sure if I want more Hornet Queens here, which was always the card I didn't want to play against when I was R/W or if I'm too worried about not getting to seven mana when my opponent is killing my mana creatures. I think I can usually expect them to go heavy on removal, which helps with having time to cast it, so that's likely the card I'd want more of to address this problem specifically.
I lost once to W/U Heroic, and I beat it once. W/U Heroic is supposed to be a horrible matchup for Green Devotion, but having a lot of colorless blockers helps. They can go over or around them with Stratus Walk and Aqueous Form, but they have to find one of those quickly or Mastery of the Unseen's lifegain takes over. Briber's Purse is the best sideboard card against them, but I don't think it's warranted at the moment.
I've lost three times to Abzan Control, and beaten it three times (plus two other wins against Abzan Reanimator). This is a close matchup. They want to go long, which you're happy to do. They have sweepers, but you can fight through those. Most of their pressure is basically irrelevant. Most of their wins come from curving removal into Elspeth, which is very difficult to beat if you don't already have a board. More Banishing Lights might help with this, but I'm a little scared to go that way because I don't want to lose to Ugin, which I can often beat, but I'm afraid of them breaking my Banishing Lights and suddenly getting other permanents with their Ugin. Still, more might be appropriate as I've generally been able to ignore their other threats. I've been really happy with Nissa, Worldwaker in the sideboard against these decks as a two-for-one against their removal and a way to trample to hit Elspeth. Additional Hornet Queens could also help here, and Glare of Heresy deals with Elspeth, Sun's Champion without the Ugin exposure, but it's also more narrow. Any combination of additional Nissas, Hornet Queens, and Glare of Heresy in the sideboard would likely help here.
I've lost once to Abzan Aggro, and I've beaten it once. Abzan Control sometimes wins long games against me, and I sometimes win long games against them. It's very hard for Abzan Aggro to win a long game. The games they win are the ones that play like R/W's aggressive draws where they play a threat and then kill my blockers until I'm dead. I'm not exactly sure about sideboarding against them, or what cards would help. I've been bringing in Hornet Nest even though it's easy for them to kill because they do have to kill it, as I'll almost certainly win if they give up on attacking on the ground, but there's some risk that I flood on that kind of thing and they side into End Hostilities and/or Elspeth. Glare of Heresy would probably help here, as I'm largely trying to buy time, but I'm always extremely hesitant to add removal spells to ramp decks.
My last loss was to Sultai Control. I've beaten Sultai Control twice, Sultai Reanimator twice, and U/B Control three times (plus another three with the Naya version). Sultai Control is the best of these decks against me, since it can kill Mastery of the Unseen, but all of them seem like very good matchups. Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver can be a bit of a problem, but I've won games when it's activated several times by eventually going bigger. Nissa, Worldwaker, Genesis Hydra, and Mastery of the Unseen are all incredible against them, and Whisperwood Elemental is very good. The fact that Genesis Hydra gives me uncounterable Mastery of the Unseens is basically enough to beat U/B Control by itself.
Finally, a quick sideboarding guide:
VS R/W Aggro
I start by cutting Genesis Hydra, because it's too hard to get a lot of mana. Beyond that, Polukranos, World Eater can be trimmed, as it's a bit of a liability against Valorous Stance and Chained to the Rocks, although it blocks well and lives through Stoke the Flames, so I have mixed feelings here. I'm inclined to cut Temur Sabertooth because it dies to Lightning Strike. Nylea, God of the Hunt is actually the worst card here, and the only reason I didn't start with that is that it's a singleton. I've been trimming Voyaging Satyrs because they're the vulnerable mana creatures, but I'm not sure you can really afford to do that. I think the sideboarding should be something like:
I'm really not sure about this exactly. Mastery of the Unseen is good when they're removal-heavy, but when you have Arbor Colossus and Hornet Queen you might not need to go that big to win, and it can be slow to catch you up. The lifegain helps to get out of burn range, but I'm adding Nylea's Disciples to do that faster. You'll note that I'm bringing in some Disciples and some Nests but not all. I'm also trimming a Polukranos, World Eater and some Voyaging Satyrs. I'm really not sure what the best approach is here. I'm also not sure if I want Arbor Colossus or Hornet Queen--Colossus is faster, but Hornet Queen doesn't lose to a single white removal spell. Arbor Colossus is much better against the R/G decks, but Hornet Queen is good against Abzan Control--sort of. They also sometimes just cast Drown in Sorrow.
VS U/B Control
Do something different than this if you know they don't have Perilous Vault, but start here, because you're very likely to win if they don't have Perilous Vault.
VS Abzan Control
Again, not totally sure about the cuts. The thinking is that Polukranos is your biggest investment with the least immediate payoff, but I'm not sure that cutting a big threat is better than just cutting another Satyr.
VS Mono-Red Aggro
Some big questions here. Not sure if you want Setessan Tactics again. I think it's another spot where you don't because you're winning if you can actually keep multiple creatures in play. There's also a chance that Banishing Light and Temur Sabertooth are better than Mastery of the Unseen.
There are a lot of other decks in the format, but I think that covers the most common and gives you an idea of which cards I consider taking out. Most of the other cards almost never get cut.