Modern is back in the books for most players, and that means with GP Providence and SCG Indy this coming weekend, Standard returns to the spotlight. Two weeks ago, the Season Two Invitational was dominated by G/R Devotion and on the other side of the country Chris Fennell was victorious in TCG Player's premier tournament that hosted a huge portion of talent. Standard is a cyclical beast that never remains stagnant for long, but for now G/R Devotion is the best deck, and here's how to beat it.
- 3 Deathmist Raptor
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 3 Genesis Hydra
- 2 Hornet Queen
- 4 Rattleclaw Mystic
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Whisperwood Elemental
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 3 Dragonlord Atarka
- 3 Polukranos, World Eater
I've played almost all the variations of Devotion decks ever since Pro Tour Theros and have both won and lost a great deal in just about every single matchup. This iteration is special due to being far more resilient than Devotion has been in most snapshots of Standard over the past two years.
The traditional ways in which these types of strategies have lost in the past are the following:
This is the best way to beat Devotion. At the end of the day, the deck is interested in playing a bunch of expensive spells and is filled with mana accelerants and a medium land count. If Devotion isn't able to reach its payoff cards, the deck flounders and does largely nothing. “Bolt the Bird” is an effective strategy for keeping Devotion on the back foot and not allowing them to snowball and go over the top of their opponents.
G/R decks often have a massive weakness to fliers. Typically, even if the deck is able to get off the ground, if an opponent has a flying clock and any support to keep the race unbalanced, it is difficult for G/R to do something powerful enough to close the game before getting chipped or burned out.
Running Out Of Threats
Somewhat the opposite of manascrew, if an opponent can flatline Devotion's draw either with Thoughtseize or precise removal spells, the deck can quickly become a pile of mana that doesn't have the critical mass of threats that it needs to compete with another coherent strategy. This is historically the stance taken by Mono-Black Devotion that made this matchup so lopsided.
Why Fennell's Deck Is Special
G/R Devotion now plays the best flying trumps. Dragonlord Atarka and Hornet Queen are top-end bombs that immediately impact the board and restore parity. If Devotion is able to reach seven mana, they're nearly guaranteed that they are firmly ahead and have outclassed what their opponent is doing. Even if Atarka is killed, she has wiped out most of the work your opponent has done – and when they can't kill her, she clocks incredibly quickly. Bile Blight has dropped in popularity so significantly as a result of the Deathmist Raptor infestations that Hornet Queen is unlikely to be handled in any remotely-efficient way and brick-walls any creature deck. Elspeth used to be the most dangerous opposition for what was a strategy that kept its belly in the grass, but now Elspeth decks must come to the grim reality that three token roadblocks is probably the only value she can acquire before being killed by Atarka or run over by Hornets.
Speaking of Deathmist Raptor, it is also near impossible to run this deck out of threats. By merely touching Deathmist Raptor, G/R Devotion essentially free-rolls a huge amount of threat density as a result of playing Rattleclaw Mystic. If an opponent is interested in grinding, Raptors can keep absorbing their resources to retain parity until Devotion can deploy their trumps or simply repeatedly clock an opponent. It is more difficult to flood now because drawing one of your mana creatures now creates a real threat and Rattleclaw Mystic is a relevant attacker. Whisperwood Elemental is also able to represent not only an additional threat every turn it stays in play but also the ability to constantly re-buy Raptors. Devotion has largely become a giant pile of redundancy instead of a deck that used to generate a ton of polarized draws.
How Did We Get Here?
This question is rather simple to answer: Abzan Megamorph. When the format shifts to a place where everyone is trying out-midrange each other and is focused on grindy ground games where a net-positive exchange is defined as casting Abzan Charm on a Deathmist Raptor, going way over the top is a natural solution. Abzan Control decks as they are currently designed are a cake-walk for G/R Devotion. Their short term Raptor aggression is easily contained by Devotion's own copy of the Mythic and, as previously stated, their Planeswalker trump is no more. Megamorph is a deck designed to grind with Den Protector, but their cards pound-for-pound just aren't effective enough in the matchup and they are incapable of putting a relevant amount of pressure on Devotion. The deck has to be rebuilt to compete.
How To Beat Devotion With Abzan
The list that I look to for inspiration was the Team TCGPlayer Abzan deck that dominated Grand Prix Memphis. While it is a bit out-of-date, I think a lot of what it was trying to do then can be ported to the present.
While I'm still a bit unsure on some of the details, like Drown in Sorrow in the maindeck and the old Fleecemane Lions-in-the-sideboard plan, this feels like a reasonable place to start attacking Devotion. Hornet Queen's effectiveness in particular is diminished considerably when you start to include sweepers, and assuming Whisperwood Elemental can be contained, repeatedly casting Crux of Fate with Den Protector is a decent way to transition into a win with Ugin or even Elspeth. The point is that Abzan Control has to live up to its name in how it approaches the matchup instead of trying to win as a value-oriented midrange deck.
On the other end of the spectrum, Abzan Aggro actually currently looks to be well-positioned to beat Devotion. The classic recipe of sufficient pressure and just enough removal to race to the finish line is one of the better ways to beat the Devotion deck, even though having to push through opposing Raptors may prove to be a slog. Polukranos and Courser of Kruphix on the lower side of the curve are quite poor against Abzan Aggro.
How To Beat Devotion With Red Decks
There are two main avenues to take into consideration based on the speed of your red deck. Atarka Red's plan should be to go wide around Devotion's slow draws and using its namesake card to finish the job. Devotion is good at handling a singular powerful threat, but has a difficult time blocking a large team of creatures early. Dragon Fodder, Hordeling Outburst, and Goblin Rabblemaster are red's best cards and it is important to mulligan into better hands for the matchup. Due to how powerful Atarka's Command is in conjunction with these cards and also its vital role in combating Nylea's Disciple in the sideboard games, I do not think aggressive red decks are viable here without the green splash.
Mardu, on the other hand, should be a Dragon deck built to use its interactive spells to keep Devotion's mana under control long enough to establish flying clocks that can close the game out before Hornet Queen comes online. While it is possible to win games where Dragonlord Atarka eats a Thunderbreak Regent or Stormbreath Dragon, it is incredibly difficult to beat Hornet Queen if Devotion plays her with a double-digit life total. Sideboard games become considerably more challenging as you are often facing down Arbor Colossus and Plummet, making your Plan A tough to execute. Look to incorporate cards like Self-Inflicted Wound to trade early at a gain and Anger of the Gods to clean up both the ground and any pesky Hornets there may be. The key to the matchup is to turn Devotion into a one-spell-per-turn reactive mess that gets trumped by your Crackling Dooms.
How To Beat Devotion With Blue Decks
U/B Control and to a slightly lesser extent Esper Control probably have the best Devotion matchups by default, and as a result I would expect a strong push towards these archetypes over the next few weeks. While the manner in which these decks are constructed is typically sufficient, Whisperwood Elemental, Xenagos the Reveler, and Deathmist Raptor all pose real problems. It should come as no surprise that I'm advocating for Perilous Vault to be put in blue decks right now. Perilous Vault is by far the most powerful tool for destroying Devotion, handling every card in an effective manner besides their copies of Nissa, Worldwaker out of the sideboard. If you want to beat Devotion badly, I would suggest U/B Control somewhere along these lines:
While I still prefer Esper Dragons overall as a deck, it can actually be difficult to pick a good spot to play Dragonlord Ojutai in the matchup and taking the “run my opponent out of threats” approach is rather effective once Perilous Vault is in the deck to combat Deathmist Raptor. I wouldn't be surprised if this would also be a good week to be playing Risen Executioner to fight the mirror matches that I expect to pop up.
How To Beat Devotion In The Mirror Match
First of all, don't make the mistake of believing that G/W Devotion may be favored or even viable against G/R. It's not. Dragonlord Atarka does too good of a job of trumping the Mastery deck's mana production and Xenagos, the Reveler will quickly leave you in the dust. That being said, the key component of the mirror largely comes down to discipline with mulligans. If your hand is slow and does not represent a fast seven-drop, it would be best to mulligan. Simply trying to play a Polukranos and attack is not a winning strategy. To this end, Xenagos is one of the best cards in the mirror and I would advocate adding as many more copies as you can fit somewhere in the 75. Another spell that firmly trumped me in the Season Two Invitational was See the Unwritten. It is difficult to beat a copy of Hornet Queen and Atarka simultaneously for six mana. Whether moving towards this style of deck construction is a bit inbred is unclear to me, but I think it may make a great sideboard option as it can be incredibly difficult to break serve in the mirror when facing down a first-turn Elvish Mystic just by playing an honest game of Magic on-curve.
The key to Standard over the next few weeks is finding an effective way to contain G/R Devotion while not shooting yourself in the foot during the deck construction process. What do you think is the best way to target G/R Devotion, and what will you play with a new boogieman in the format?