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By: Psychobabble, PB
Oct 16 2013 10:58am
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The big story to come out of the pro-tour this week is devotion. When 6 out of the top 8 standard decks are built around the mechanic, it makes you sit up and notice it in a fairly big way. One of the biggest reasons for the power of the mechanic comes down to one card which is among the most powerful cards in the set:

Nykthos is the latest in a long line of ultra-powerful lands that break the "one mana per land" rule. Comparisons were made at the pro-tour to Tolarian Academy, and while the required deckbuilding commitment, and slow speed, does significantly reduce Nykthos's power level, the comparison isn't too ridiculous in formats where you can afford to wait 3-4 turns to "go off" with your massive mana. By being able to break the mana curve in such a difficult to interact with way, Nykthos has the potential to do very broken things.

Throughout my Theros set review (part 1 and part 2), I discussed whether certain cards in each colour would be good in a Nykthos-fueled mono-coloured block deck of the relevant colour. While the support for devotion is obviously far thinner in block than standard (in particular, block lacks the double colour symbol 2-drops and triple colour hybrid 3-drops that exist in standard), I believe that the power of Nykthos is high enough that mono-coloured decks need to be seriously considered in Theros Block constructed, and in this article I'll be looking at each colour to see how likely it is to support a mono-coloured devotion strategy.

The groundrules

For a Theros block devotion/Nykthos deck to work, there's a few basic rules that the deck will need to follow:

 

  • Lots of permanents, preferably with 2+ coloured mana symbols and if they're cheap, even better. Each spell you play that isn't a permanent will reduce your potential devotion count and hurt your ability to go off with Nykthos, your god and whatever other devotion-enabled spells you are running. This poses serious problems for some colours - devotion is such an all-in strategy, that playing more than a small handful of permanents really hurts your deck and some colours simply do permanents better than others. In the decks that I'll be talking about below, I'm going to try to have a maximum of four non-permanents.
  • Mono-coloured. While some of the standard devotion decks can get away with being two or even three coloured, that's not the case in block. There simply aren't enough multicoloured or (especially) hybrid-mana permanents to make that work without diluting the central strategy of your deck.
  • Gods and weapons. I think all of the block decks will want to play around three of each of these. The gods all give you a great payoff for hitting 5 devotion, in the form of a huge, undercosted, indestructible creature and the weapons are all reasonably cheap and generally useful ways to add two coloured mana symbols to your devotion count. You are unlikely to want to play four copies of any of these though, due to them being legendary.
  • 4x Nykthos. Despite this land being legendary, the fact that you can play it to double up on a nykthos that you already tapped for huge amounts of mana means that this drawback is substantially mitigated. Given that all of these decks are going to be mono-coloured, playing four shouldn't hurt your ability to hit your colours in the early game too much and the potential payoff when you generate 15+ mana in a single turn more than outweighs that.
  • Mana sinks. If you're going to be generating insane amounts of mana, you want to be doing something with it. A big monstrous activation is an obvious one, but drawing and casting multiple cards also works and the god's various activated abilities (which are repeatable) and weapons can also do a decent job.

 

With that in mind, I'll head straight on into the colours. I'll go through them in order of what I roughly think is weakest to strongest. I won't be suggesting sideboards, the meta's far too unknown at the moment for that to be any more than pure guesswork.

Blue

Given that three out of the pro tour top 8 decks were mono blue, it's fairly safe to say that blue is pretty much the strongest devotion deck in standard. I do not think that's the case in block though, in fact I think it's the weakest by a pretty substantial margin. While the standard deck has tidebinder mage and domestication as pretty great double devotion removal spells, you're pretty much out of luck in block. Blue is also one of the colours that feel most awkward playing around with permanents - it's just wrong to have a mono blue deck with no counterspells! Anyway, here's a rough sketch of a list:

 

Blue devotion
 
Creatures
4 Omenspeaker
4 Vaporkin
4 Wavecrash Triton
4 Nimbus Naiad
3 Prognostic Sphinx
3 Master of Waves
2 Shipbreaker Kraken
24 cards

Other Spells
4 Ordeal of Thassa
3 Bident of Thassa
3 Thassa, God of the Sea
2 Curse of Swine
12 cards
Lands
20 Island
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
24 cards
 
Thassa, God of the Sea

 

There's some pretty strong spells here. Prognostic sphinx is possibly the best finisher in block and the double blue helps power up your master of waves, who can pump out a serious amount of power if you have a reasonable devotion count. Omenspeaker is a pretty good value-blocker against early aggression, and vaporkin/naiad let you get the beats going yourself (especially if enchanted with ordeal) while also adding to your devotion count. Unfortunately instead of domestication and tidebinder mage, you're forced to run wavecrash triton if you want to have any permanent-based way to interact with your opponent's creatures outside of shipbreaker kraken. There's only eight ways to turn on triton in this list (ordeal and naiad), it's possible that you want to add another couple - perhaps (fates foretold) or aqueous form. I've got a couple of curse of swine there, though, to give you some outs against gods or some monstrous creature that you just need to deal with.

I think this deck is worth testing out, just due to the power of its finishers, but I feel like its early game is too weak to give it a real chance. It's also worth noting that this is one of the colours that doesn't have a 2-coloured mana symbol 3-drop which hurts the devotion plan somewhat, although it is nice that Thassa is cheaper than the other gods.

Red

Red's another colour that generally likes to play a lot of non-permanent spells, so it feels a little bit awkward to build a devotion deck around it. It also doesn't fit particularly well with the "stall early game to play massive late game bombs" plan - abilities like "must attack each turn each able" don't mesh particularly well with a defensive gameplan. So the mono red deck is going to have to try to be at least a little bit aggressive, but it does have a decent late game to play with too:

 

Red devotion
 
Creatures
4 Deathbellow Raider
4 Rageblood Shaman
4 Ember Swallower
4 Fanatic of Mogis
4 Stormbreath Dragon
2 Stoneshock Giant
22 cards

Other Spells
4 Ordeal of Purphuros
3 Hammer of Purphuros
3 Purphuros, God of the Forge
2 Lightning Strike
12 cards
Lands
20 Mountain
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
24 cards
 
Purphuros, God of the Forge

 

I think the best creature in this deck might be ember swallower. It only costs four, has a really solid body, adds two devotion, has a monstrous ability that can just end games by preventing your opponent from being able to resolve anything to interact favourably with your 7/8 beater. Stormbreath is also a pretty sweet top-end, and between that, fanatic and purphuros' ping, the deck has heaps of reach even on a stalled board. The most awkward part of this deck is the minotaur sub-theme which you're virtually forced to run with. Rageblood shaman is just not a card you're excited to run in constructed, but it does add two devotion and there's essentially nothing else at 3 mana that you can run. It does have a little bit of synergy with deathbellow raider and fanatic of mogis, but it doesn't feel like a particularly strong plan - perhaps a dedicated heroic early game would be better - the red heroic cards just seem so weak though. I'm not sure if anger of the gods or more targeted burn here belongs or not, but I've tentatively gone with ordeals as the main source of removal.

White

White is the first colour which seems to have a legitimate chance of pulling off a devotion strategy. While its actual payoff for hitting high devotion levels is a bit lower than some of the other colours, it has a bunch of great early creatures to turn on devotion and a pretty good top end (particularly elspeth) to close out the game.

 

White devotion
 
Creatures
3 Hopeful Eidolon
4 Phalanx Leader
4 Fabled Hero
4 Hundred-Handed One
4 Wingsteed Rider
2 Celestial Archon
21 cards

Other Spells
3 Elspeth, Sun's Champion
3 Heliod, God of the Sun
3 Spear of Heliod
4 Ordeal of Heliod
2 Gods Willing
15 cards
Lands
20 Plains
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
24 cards
 
Heliod, God of the Sun

 

You can't really avoid a heroic theme in white, given the creature base, even though the enablers in the colour aren't particularly exciting. Here I have 5 bestow creatures, a couple of gods willing and the ordeal which, while opening you up to 2-for-1s does put most of your heroic creatures outside of red removal at least if you play it and attack on the same turn. White is pretty crazy in having three double-coloured symbol 2 or 3 drops which really helps it turn on devotion to activate your god and nykthos. I didn't include evangel of heliod as a way to get value from devotion - elspeth seems to be a far better 6-mana token producer. There's no removal in this list, while white does have some potentially playable removal, it either hits small or large targets and with so few slots to play with, it's not clear what options to go with.

Green

Green has a wealth of awesome things to do with huge amounts of mana, and obviously a lot of good ramp to get you there even if your nykthos/devotion plan doesn't come to bear. The colour naturally isn't particularly interactive though, and is unlikely to surprise opponent's too much, though mistcutter hydra and boon satyr do give you some blowout potential:

 

Green devotion
 
Creatures
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Voyaging Satyr
4 Boon Satyr
4 Reverent Hunter
4 Polukranos, World Eater
4 Arbor Colossus
3 Mistcutter Hydra
27 cards

Other Spells
2 Bow of Nylea
4 Nylea, God of the Hunt
3 Time to Feed
9 cards
Lands
20 Forest
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
24 cards
 
Nylea, God of the Hunt

 

The god here seems pretty crucial to the overall strategy. Giving your massive dumb beaters a way to punch through seems really relevant - time to feed being another way to get you some additional value out of massive non-trampling threats. In my set review, I overlooked the ability of Voyaging Satyr to untap nykthos, which might put it above karametra's acolyte - although the acolyte itself does a decent nykthos impersonation so I'm not sure which you should actually run. The really nice thing about this list is that it has two X-spells to pump a huge amount of mana into, polukranos obviously being the better of the two but mistcutter's not too shabby either, especially if it has trample. It might have a problem with being too threat light, though, because unlike the other colours, most of your early plays don't really do anything on offense (or much defense), as they're just mana ramp.

Black

Black seems to have the most likely tier-1 devotion strategy in block. It has some pretty awesome ways to power up devotion, and then some great payoff for doing so. It seems really hard to play the deck without a good number of non-permanent spells though, even dropping thoughtsieze for disciple feels pretty painful. Most of the permanents you do play, though, have double black in their mana cost which offsets the non-permanent spell issue though so I think it still works overall:

 

Black devotion
 
Creatures
4 Agent of the Fates
3 Baleful Eidolon
4 Returned Phalanx
4 Disciple of Phenax
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
2 Hythonia the Cruel
21 cards

Other Spells
3 Whip of Erebos
3 Erebos, God of the Dead
3 Hero's Downfall
3 Read the Bones
3 Rescue from the Underworld
15 cards
Lands
17 Swamp
4 Temple of Deceit
3 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
24 cards
 
Erebos, God of the Dead

 

Note that I'm only playing 3 nykthos here, simply because there isn't much to do with huge amounts of mana here outside of Hythonia and maybe some of the card draw. I'm also running the playset of temple of deceit to enable late game attacks with returned phalanx at a fairly low cost to the mana base. Anyway, this deck looks sweet. Agent of the fates is a great stall card on his own and throwing a baleful eidolon or rescue from the underworld (returning gray merchant!!) is just value city. I think baleful eidolon is a playable card even outside of agent interactions - deathtouch is a great way to deal with massive green fatties, and getting the effect twice out of the same card (eg. upgrading a disciple of phenax) is really nice. There's lots of creature recursion here, and some great ETB abilities to abuse - particularly gray merchant of course - the deck might have some slight issues closing out longer games, but there's enough card draw here to find your threats, I think, and recuring gray merchant's should give you enough inevitability.

Conclusion

The block format officially launches after the downtime on the 16th with daily events starting, so I look forward to being able to report on how the format's shaping up competitively next week. Until then, happy testing and I hope this article's given you a few ideas in exploring the devoted mechanic in block.

2 Comments

I am not sure if 4 Nykthos is by xger at Wed, 10/16/2013 - 13:28
xger's picture

I am not sure if 4 Nykthos is right. I've been testing out a mono black deck (my list runs the full 4 of Read the Bones, Thoughtseize, and Hero's downfall as well as Pharika's Cure) and running 3 sometimes seems a bit much. At 4 the risk of having 2 in the opener as an auto-mull seems too high. Return from the underworld so far has been very unimpressive for me (I run a singleton of it) though it occasionally does sick things. It does not trigger Agent of the fates though.

Yeah, I think mono black is by Psychobabble at Wed, 10/16/2013 - 19:14
Psychobabble's picture

Yeah, I think mono black is the worst deck for nythkos simply because there aren't that many awesome things to do with all that mana. The "no coloured mana" opening hand issue is also very much worth bearing in mind.

And oops re underworld, for some reason I thought you would target it before sacrificing it, but that's obviously not right. That's a clear candidate for cutting there.