I'd been planning to write about spoilers this week. Dragons of Tarkir is looking like the most impactful set in Standard that didn't cause a rotation that I've ever seen (I wasn't closely following Standard when Exodus came out, that might be the current frontrunner, but this is a large set that easily wins if we ignore ancient history). I'm a little worried about it, because I think the current Standard format may be the best ever, but I think there's a good chance that Dragons of Tarkir will help rather than break things.
However, having just finished reading Shaun McLaren's article on the subject, it's clear to me that people need more information about this deck and how to deal with it.
Going forward, winning the mirror match definitely becomes a concern. The single point in Shaun's article that most compelled me to write this was reading a suggested list "tuned for the mirror" that cut a Voyaging Satyr, possibly the best card in the mirror.
If I were playing next week, this would be my maindeck:
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Genesis Hydra
- 1 Karametra's Acolyte
- 1 Reclamation Sage
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 1 Temur Sabertooth
- 4 Voyaging Satyr
- 4 Whisperwood Elemental
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 4 Polukranos, World Eater
This is closer to the list I was going to play in Miami before I talked to Brad on the way there and he sold me on Fleecemane Lion. The main difference is playing the Blossoming Sands to support the Fleecemane Lions I'd have in the sideboard.
I think the core engine of the deck is too good, and all the cards that there are four of are just the best cards for the deck, and I don't want to cut any of them. That said, I could see cutting one Genesis Hydra for Nylea, God of the Hunt. A lot of really weird cards have been suggested to try to break the mirror, but I think the solution is just to go bigger faster, and Karametra's Acolyte is the best card at doing that. If I was going to spend a lot of time testing, I might even start by trying to fit four of them into the deck, despite what I said about the other cards, to see if I was still beating other things. It's a big mana creature that's hard to kill with Polukranos, World Eater, and it makes your Polukranos substantially more devastating.
The primary reason I'd want Nylea is to kill Elspeth, Sun's Champion, but it also helps actually kill an opponent quickly in weird spots. One concern with Nylea is that it can be killed by Abzan Charm, so if you're playing against Abzan, I'd try to hold onto it until they play Elspeth and then play it as an answer.
The reason I'd move Reclamation Sage to the maindeck is that it lets you kill all of your opponent's Mastery of the Unseens with Temur Sabertooth in the mid-game, and it kills a Courser of Kruphix early. It has plenty of targets in the format, and it answers the Perilous Vaults that should get more popular in U/B Control (and other control decks like Abzan and Sultai might want to start playing them). It's also great against G/B Constellation, which hasn't been played a lot but could easily come back because Doomwake Giant is very good against G/W Devotion.
Cutting Fleecemane Lion from the maindeck moving forward is a pretty easy choice for me, as it's the worst card by a lot in the mirror. It was included to help the R/W Aggro and Sultai Control matchups as something of a presideboarding step because it's very good against those decks despite generally being off-plan in other places.
The sideboard is a little trickier, and something I want to get back to after discussing the cards and strategies I think are best against G/W Devotion. First, individual cards:
Let's start with the dedicated hate card that hasn't been previously played. This card seems like an absolute nightmare, and any black deck can reasonably sideboard it in against you now that they know you're a respectable threat that they need an answer to. I wouldn't be surprised to see this as a one or two-of all over the place this weekend. This is a strong pull toward including Valorous Stance, a card I didn't particularly like otherwise, in the sideboard of G/W Devotion in reasonably large numbers.
Another card that a variety of decks can play, even though only U/B Control has been playing it. Perilous Vault is great against you, but despite Shaun's suggestion to play four of them, I think I'd still choose to play against the list he suggested over a random opponent with G/W Devotion. They're very badly positioned against you without Perilous Vault, and you can blow it up with Reclamation Sage, power through it with Nissa, Worldwaker, and just not over extend into it, which was your plan anyway since you're playing against U/B Control. Still, the rise of this card contributed to pushing me to put Reclamation Sage in the maindeck, and I'd want at least two more in the sideboard to be ready for it.
If you're going to try to play U/B Control, you should probably at least have the right sweepers. There have been a lot of times playing against U/B Control online where I've known this is the only thing that would beat me, but I've ignored it because they never have it. If you actually had it, things would go quite a bit better for you. This answers the end of turn Mastery of the Unseen activations, Fleecemane Lion, and dodges Whisperwood Elemental and Valorous Stance. If U/B Control started playing a few of these in addition to Perilous Vault, then I'd actually start to get worried about the matchup.
Shaun correctly identified that most planeswalkers aren't great against G/W Devotion, but this one is pretty scary. It's very hard to kill through the deathtouching 3/3s, and doing so will usually cost basically all of your resources. If you can't kill it, the ultimate is one of the few things that can actually keep up with your lifegain engine.
Doomwake Giant is very good at clearing out manifests and mana creatures, and because G/W Devotion isn't great at getting things off the board, the threat of multiple Doomwake Giants, especially with Pharika, God of the Affliction, can potentially wrath G/W Devotion and lock them out of the game. G/B Devotion with See the Unwritten might be one of the better decks against G/W Devotion.
It seems the best way to beat G/W Devotion is to play any other green devotion deck. G/R Devotion goes bigger and faster (the way that I want to with Karametra's Acolyte) with Xenagos, the Reveler. This is the other planeswalker that's generally very good against G/W, and it can allow for some really explosive plays. If I were building a deck to beat G/W Devotion from scratch, I'd probably try Jund Devotion with Xenagos, the Reveler, Garruk, Apex Predator, and Doomwake Giant and/or Archfiend of Depravity. It's possible I wouldn't actually want a Devotion shell, and I'd just use Sylvan Caryatid and Xenagos as my acceleration, and play more removal.
As for decks I think are good against G/W Devotion:
I think the R/W Aggro matchup is very close. Fleecemane Lion helped a lot, but I think it's correct for G/W to move away from Fleecemane Lion. G/W adding Reclamation Sage to the maindeck won't make things easier for R/W. This isn't a deck that will hate G/W out of the format, but it's a deck you can show up with and not feel embarrassingly behind the times when you get paired against G/W.
I think Mono-Red Aggro is a slight favorite against G/W Devotion, depending on how G/W Devotion is built. Again, I don't think it's enough of a favorite for me to want to play it just for that reason, but if I liked the deck other than that, this wouldn't push me away. If anything, G/W should push Siege Rhino out of the format a little, which creates a good opening for Mono-Red Aggro in general.
W/U Heroic is another aggressive deck that was reasonable until G/W Devotion, but it's nowhere nearly as good against G/W as it was against other green devotion decks because of how Mastery of the Unseen gives colorless blockers and can gain enough life to ignore any heroic attackers once it gets going. Temur Battle Rage is likely a good splash here, as it helps with the colorless blocker issue and closing out the game before G/W gets going, and you'll definitely not want to skimp on Aqueous Forms.
As I mentioned above, the way to win the Devotion mirror is often to go bigger faster. Red is better at doing that because of Xenagos, but the deck is also just a bit weaker because it doesn't have Mastery of the Unseen. The result is that the matchup is pretty close from my experience, but I think that's something G/R Devotion could address by finding the right things to do with its mana (like splashing Garruk, Apex Predator). Temur Ascendancy or Hammer of Purphoros Combo Green Devotion is another way to consistently go over G/W Devotion, and G/B Constellation Devotion likely also works. The problem with all of these strategies is that they start out worse against the field, and then often lose to the same hate as G/W Devotion, so you're likely to get leveled by everyone who's trying to level G/W in any other way. This is not the approach I would use.
Abzan is pretty bad against G/W because G/W goes over the top of any other midrange deck, however, the point of Abzan is that it's full of good cards and it can easily be tuned to beat almost anything it expects. This week, it can play a couple Perilous Vaults and a Garruk, Apex Predator to play as a follow up to Elspeth, Sun's Champion and likely find itself favored against G/W while being a good enough deck to punish others who go further out of their way to trump G/W. Also, if you play Abzan, please side out your Siege Rhinos against G/W Devotion. I understand that if you're playing Abzan, you probably love the Rhino, but it just doesn't do anything in this matchup. It might feel like it does because it's hard for them to attack into, but they really don't care about attacking most of the time.
Getting back to what my sideboard would look like in G/W, I'm thinking something like this:
I think it's important to have access to Fleecemane Lion against anyone you're trying to attack (blue control) and anyone who's trying to attack you with smaller creatures than Fleecemane Lion. You need Reclamation Sage in the mirror and against R/W, Constellation, and Perilous Vault. Hornet Nest beats red aggressive decks. Valorous Stance is good in the mirror, W/U Heroic, and saves you from a potential Archfiend of Depravity. Nissa, Worldwaker is a great card against control whose anticipated stock only goes up when you expect more Perilous Vaults. Hunt the Hunter is good in the mirror and very important for answering opposing Xenagos, the Revelers by killing their blocker and using the extra power to attack their Xenagos. Setessan Tactics is a powerful card to be able to find eventually in the mirror, so I wouldn't want to lose access to it.
I mentioned that I wanted to write about cards from Dragons of Tarkir this week, so looking forward to what the deck gains--if it continues to be a well-positioned deck when Dragons of Tarkir comes out--I'm looking at some very different cards than Shaun was. He mentioned Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit, Hidden Dragonslayer, and Den Protector. Anafenza is basically a bad Fleecemane Lion that you can almost never cast in this deck. The other two are slow, off-plan attrition style sources of card advantage that do exactly what you don't need to do because of Mastery of the Unseen. I'd stay far away from all of those in the maindeck.
The cards that are interesting to me are the ones that support your Devotion plan. Deathmist Raptor is a solid attacker against control--yes, it's just a Trained Armodon, but Whisperwood Elemental, Mastery of the Unseen, and other Deathmist Raptors can all return it to play after they kill it, making it a substantial persistent threat and source of green devotion symbols. It's even better against people who are trying to attack on the ground, as nothing gets through it alive, and small attackers don't even take it down. I don't know if you can really make room for this without changing the direction of the deck, but it definitely brings something interesting to the table.
As for changing the direction of the deck, I think that's something that has to be considered. Avatar of the Resolute is another great aggressive devotion enabler that plays particularly well with Reverent Hunter, Genesis Hydra, and Polukranos, World Eater. I like it because you can play it on the second turn to power up your devotion if you don't have another play, and if you draw it later it will be a reasonably large trampler. Giving the deck some reach (the keyword, not the ability to finish a game against an opponent who has stabilized) also helps deal with potential dragon problems.
Speaking of dragon problems, Scaleguard Sentinels is another great two-drop if you're interested in Green Devotion and have dragons, and it plays well with Avatar of the Resolute if you have a dragon. The trick is finding Dragons you want to put in your Green Devotion deck, but between Savage Ventmaw (pretty nice with Crater's Claws), Dragonlord Atarka, Dragonlord Dromoka, Dromoka, the Eternal, and Stormbreath Dragon, I think there might be something to the Green/x Devotion to Dragons strategy.
You only have to look at the casting costs in this set to see that Wizards decided to give Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx a last hurrah, and it's pretty clear there will be a ton of options for different ways to build Green Devotion decks going forward.