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By: Psychobabble, PB
Mar 13 2015 12:00pm
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With the current state of the block format, I'm going to be turning my attention to Standard for a little bit. I won't be trying to give a complete overview of the format or anything, just basically giving some sporadic reports of decks I've been messing around with. Given that we're also in the final weeks of the current standard format before a bunch of new, powerful, cards are added from Dragons of Tarkir, I'll keep an eye to the future here too. This week I'm diving into what has been one of my favourite archetypes ever since it became a thing - Gx devotion.

The green devotion core

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx was on everyone's radar as a key card of the Theros block during spoiler season. I devoted a whole article to speculative Nykthos-fuelled block decks and drew out the comparison of the card to a slower Tolarian Academy given that it breaks the mana curve in a similarly enormous way. Sure enough, at Pro Tour Theros, a Gruul devotion deck feeding off Burning-Tree Emissary and topping out with Garruk, Caller of Beasts made the top 8 and some form of Gx devotion deck has been a metagame staple, on and off, ever since. The deck type has been a personal favourite of mine in standard during that time. I just love the feeling of untapping Nykthos with Voyaging Satyr and doing something completely busted. The mana dork + Nykthos shell allows you to play insane mana sinks like Polukranos, World Eater, Genesis Hydra and (Ugin, Spirit Dragon) which otherwise are too slow to be exciting. When you play with Nykthos, you are invariably doing the most powerful thing in the format when it comes together. Your top end is just off the charts, and even a reasonable curve out is just enormously more powerful than what anyone else is doing. For example, here's a not-unrepresentative turn sequence from a recent game of mine:

As I said, that's not completely absurd, it's just a reasonably straightforward curve - there's certainly nut draws involving Voyaging Satyr that are even more powerful, but it's enormously powerful. I have a massive board state and can monstrous Polukranos for X=5 the following turn. Head to Head, there's not much in the format that can do better than that uninterrupted, and I love that sort of ceiling in a deck.

Anyway, in the current standard environment, the core of the deck is as follows. First the mana ramp:

Elvish Mystic Voyaging Satyr Sylvan Caryatid Courser of Kruphix

These cards are almost invariably played as a 4-of in the deck. Voyaging Satyr is the most exciting of the bunch, acting as a Candelabra of Tawnos for your Tolarian Academy whenever you have four or more green pips. One of the more annoying parts of the deck is doing Nykthos math, something to note with Satyr is that any green creature you play before paying two and tapping Nykthos for the first time in a turn pays you back double their green pips if you have a Satyr able to untap Nykthos after the first activation. So Polukranos is free and Courser nets you a mana, for example. Courser's ability to get you more mana is obviously not acceleration, but double green pips on a relevant body that dodges Disdainful Stroke and gets you incremental card advantage against control is highly valuable. From there we have the ramp targets:

Polukranos, World Eater Genesis Hydra

These are the only ramp targets that are played across the board in all of the green devotion decks. The full playset of Polukranos is almost universally used, his monstrous ability is pretty much the best thing you can do with 50 mana in any of the creature matchups. With the right draw, the deck can generate truly insane amounts of mana and surprisingly quickly - I've monstrous-ed away a 6-toughness hero equipped with Aqueous Form against UW heroic before it was able to kill me on one occasion. As with Polukranos, Whisperwood Elemental is both a solid ramp target and a mana sink after that, assuming you're able to manifest creatures. Dying to Stoke the Flames is highly annoying, but if it's not immediately killed, the 2/2 manifest is usually relevant against the types of deck that play Stoke so it's still a decent card there. The biggest draw of Whisperwood is that it goes a long way to addressing the deck's traditional weakness to wrath effects. While it won't save you against Perilous Vault, the sacrifice ability does a great job against Crux of Fate, End Hostilities and even Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, all of which are otherwise very problematic cards for the deck. There's some interesting synergy between the card and Courser of Kruphix as you can plan around what will be manifested, by leaving mana up or cracking a fetchland. I have also sacrificed my Whisperwood Elemental for no value before the end of turn to ensure that I would draw a game-winning spell on the next turn rather than manifest it. Finally there's Genesis Hydra, which is the ultimate card to spend a bajillion mana on. As we all know by now, the card is doubly excellent against control, because the double-spell triggers off casting the spell (not resolving) so the card can't be fully answered with a single counterspell, and then the second card you get is "put into play" and so also can't be countered, which is particularly good if it's a card which gives you more card advantage once resolved like a planeswalker. Many lists run less than the full set of Hydras maindeck though. Unlike Polukranos and Whisperwood, it's only good if you're casting it for at least 6 and preferably 8 mana, so it can get clunky in multiples. It's incredible against UB control though, so be sure to have all 4 in the 75 somewhere.

Anyway, that's the green core of the deck. As we'll see in the lists below, there's a few flex spots in addition to whatever you might play from the splash colour, but these are the heart of the deck and the reason it exists.

Gr devotion

 

There's a few reasons why you might want to play red in your green devotion deck. The list of such cards, across both the main and sideboard, pretty much boils down to this:

Crater's Claws Xenagos, the Reveler

In my opinion, Crater's Claws is clearly the best of the bunch here. It does everything you could want it to do. It gives you more interaction against fast decks, killing annoying threats like Goblin Rabblemaster and Mantis Rider or even just a Foundry Street Denizen and it can also take out larger threats in midrange decks. Green decks typically suffer from a lack of ways to interact with their opponent's creatures, Claws is a great complement to Polukranos in this regard. But that, of course, isn't all it does. The reason I gave up playing mono green devotion was when I lost, again, to a Gr devotion deck that could actually turn 20+ mana into an instant win. Board stalls among big green decks are real, and claws gives you something to do with all of your mana that isn't just another big dumb creature that can be blocked all day by any number of random things lying around. It's less reliable as a finisher against control decks thanks to counterspells, but it's still a "must counter" threat in the late game and so perfectly serviceable in game one. The finishing power of claws has diminished somewhat thanks to the rise of Gw devotion with Mastery of the Unseen, but even in those matchups it's not inconceivable to burn out for x=40 at times, or just take out an engine creature like Whisperwood Elemental. It's difficult to overstate the power and flexibility of Crater's Claws in this deck, and I think it's a huge mistake to play less than four.

The other cards in that list have all made appearances in the deck at one point or another. Xenagos is the most common/popular. He is a good threat that's usually a 2-for-1 against control if it resolves, and can create an endless stream of blockers against token or swarm decks if you can otherwise stabilise the board. He can also help ramp you to insane levels in board stall situations. Personally, though, I'm not a huge fan of the card. The ramp effect is relevant rarely enough that it's almost worth ignoring. And most decks play plenty of ways to interact with the card once you resolve it - if you +0 then any burn spell or even a Ugin activation kills it, and the 2/2 rarely stabilises the board well enough on its own to deter attackers. I think it's a decent card, but not a core one in the deck. The final two - Shaman and Outpost Siege - are less common but have cropped up from time to time. I've found Shaman to be theoretically nice but in practice too fragile and easily blanked to be worthwhile. Eidolon of Blossoms is a much more reliable 4-mana card advantage engine against control, and against anything with creatures the Shaman gets outclassed by everything from random tokens to Siege Rhino too easily.

As for Outpost Siege, it seems like an awesome ramp target and a way to stop the deck flooding out. This was actually discussed in a recent Top Level podcast episode by Flores and Chapin, and Chapin made an excellent point that there's a huge difference between the performance of this card in a ramp deck compared with the RW token deck. In the latter deck, you are putting pressure on your opponent to answer your threats right from the second turn, and then siege comes down as your curve topper - drawing you into burn you need to finish your opponent off, or cheap gas cards to continue the pressure. In a ramp deck that goes turn 1 nothing, turn 2 mana dork, turn 3 siege you have done nothing that affects the board or threatens your opponent for three turns. That gives your opponent plenty of time to set up their own game plan. You want to be setting up your own pressure as early as possible in a ramp deck, not doing things to give you incremental advantage down the line. You're also far less likely to be able to play two spells a turn given that your deck is full of expensive cards. There are certainly situations where it can be worthwhile, but I don't think Outpost Siege is an auto-include in the deck by any means.

Which brings me to the actual list I've been playing recently, to excellent success on MTGO in various queues.

 

 

I know that I stole this list from somewhere, because someone went 5-0 with a virtually identical list in a recent standard champs. I can't for the life of me remember where I originally got it from though. Still, the list is a beast. The red splash is exceptionally minor but absolutely worth it, as I described above Crater's Claws is just perfect in the deck. The sideboard can be tweaked to taste. One card which is usually overlooked but which I think deserves consideration as a sideboard answer to Gw devotion is Nylea, God of the Hunt which is a great way of grinding out big board stalls thanks to pumping and trample. Also note that Nissa is the best card against UB control at the moment, which is moving back towards Perilous Vault over Crux of Fate thanks to the rise of Mastery of the Unseen.

The slightly uncommon features of this deck are 4x Eidolon of Blossoms and 1x Boon Satyr. The former are quite excellent, usually being an immediate 2-for-1 against control and threatening to draw additional cards with Courser and Boon Satyr. They also pull their weight just fine against aggro decks or just any deck with x/2s (Goblin Rabblemaster, Soulfire Grand Master). They're not an essential part of the deck, but they do give the deck another good four drop and pull their weight. Boon Satyr is an interesting one, and one I haven't seen in other lists. Basically it's mainly there to give the deck another 3-drop. Elvish Mystic is much more powerful if it's ramping you into a 3-drop on your second turn, Courser is a natural fit but Boon Satyr gives the deck another angle. It's a very annoying threat against control, has some late game mana sink utility thanks to Bestow, gives you some much-lacking instant speed surprise factor and gives you two green pips for Nykthos. Again, it's not essential but it pulls its weight and I've been very happy to have it almost every time I've drawn it.

Using the above, list, here's a quick sideboard plan against the main players in standard:

vs Abzan Control
In: Genesis Hydra Genesis Hydra Arbor Colossus Arbor Colossus
Out: Sylvan Caryatid Sylvan Caryatid Sylvan Caryatid Sylvan Caryatid

People are generally far too reluctant to take out Caryatid's in my opinion. They are a liability more than a help in control matchups like these though, particularly due to the presence of wraths on the opposing side. At least Elvish Mystic and Voyaging Satyr can attack, Caryatid just does stone nothing if all of your other cards are answered. Colossus is pretty average in the matchup, but Abzan has no good targets for Reclamation Sage and I find that Nissa lands are too easily outclassed by Siege Rhino and Tasigur, the Golden Fang; they also die to an Elspeth minus.

vs RW Aggro/Jeskai tokens
In: Reclamation Sage Reclamation Sage Hornet Nest Setessan Tactics Setessan Tactics
Out: Genesis Hydra Genesis Hydra Boon Satyr Sylvan Caryatid Sylvan Caryatid

This is a genuinely tough post-board matchup. Reclamation Sage is an all-star, the deck plays so many strong enchantments like Chained to the Rocks and Outpost Siege. The deck's usual plan post-board is to pivot to a control role, leaning on Anger of the Gods and End Hostilities for removal and winning with cards like Outpost Siege, Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, or various flying/resilient threats backed up by burn. This is particularly true of the versions splashing blue for Treasure Cruise, Jeskai Ascendancy and countermagic which play almost a pure control role post-board. The RW version is more likely to keep some aggro elements in, and if they do then Genesis Hydra becomes a liability and you need ways to interact with the cheap and dangerous creatures like Soulfire Grand Master and Goblin Rabblemaster. Against Jeskai, you probably want to play slightly differently and side out all four of your Caryatids and instead of bringing in Hornet Nest and Tactics, bring in extra Genesis Hydras and some number of Nissa and/or Arbor Colossus for Mantis Rider/Stormbreath Dragon.

vs Mono Red
In: Nylea's Disciple Nylea's Disciple Nylea's Disciple Hornet Nest Setessan Tactics
Out: Genesis Hydra Genesis Hydra Boon Satyr

You have a lot of cards that are good in this matchup if you can get some early acceleration going. Whisperwood is particularly good at stabilising your board even against various falter effects. Nylea's Disciple is necessary as way to lock up the game late, and Polukranos can frequently mow down a bunch of x/1 targets if you get some fast mana.

vs Abzan Aggro
In: Arbor Colossus Arbor Colossus
Out: Genesis Hydra Genesis Hydra

You naturally match up quite well against this deck, you need to keep your Caryatids in post-board as speed is very important but if you can start pumping out your fatties you're usually going to win because your creatures are stronger. Genesis Hydra is a bit slow, Arbor Colossus both eats Rhinos and Tasigurs as well as being a great answer to Wingmate Roc which is one of the cards which can cause you issues.

vs UB/sultai control
In: Nissa, Worldwaker Nissa, Worldwaker Nissa, Worldwaker Reclamation Sage Reclamation Sage Genesis Hydra Genesis Hydra
Out: Sylvan Caryatid Sylvan Caryatid Sylvan Caryatid Sylvan Caryatid crater's claws crater's claws crater's claws

This is the one matchup where I advocate taking out Crater's Claws. While it's a fine game one card, it gets much worse against all of the game-2 countermagic and you will frequently find it hard to get to a board state where you can burn your opponent out for x=15 as they will wrath away all of your green pips. You bring in five cards that fight Perilous Vault, which can otherwise be quite troublesome, and Genesis Hydra is an absolute all-star in the matchup.

vs Gx devotion
In: Setessan Tactics Setessan Tactics Genesis Hydra Genesis Hydra
Out: Sylvan Caryatid Sylvan Caryatid Sylvan Caryatid Sylvan Caryatid

This isn't a fast matchup, so Caryatids aren't needed. If you are playing against the new Gw version of the deck, I recommend taking out two Crater's Claws in favour of Reclamation Sages.

Overall, I quite like this deck's position in the metagame against the established decks. My one query about it though is how it fares against the new kid on the block, Gw - all that Mastery lifegain has the potential to take away the inevitability that Crater's Claws otherwise gives the deck, and the fact that Mastery makes creatures that aren't wiped away by Ugin also means that the deck's other usual way of going over the top isn't as effective as it is against something like a whip deck. With that in mind, I've more recently moved on to Gw Devotion - here's some thoughts on that deck.

Gw Devotion

I said in my FRF set review that I found manifest the most difficult of the new mechanics to evaluate and perhaps the strangeness of the mechanic is why it took so long for people to latch on to the power of Mastery of the Unseen. A little while after the set people started playing it in RW tokens/aggro, at first in the board and eventually in the maindeck as its power became apparent. In the past couple of weeks though, a few different teams realised that it was just better in a green devotion shell. As Sam Black explained at GP Miami, the big advantage of green over the RW shell is that you have a huge density of powerful creatures, maximising your chances of being able to flip over something huge. And the card sure is powerful in this shell. Something I hadn't appreciated before playing with it was how good it is even in multiples, because you get the lifegain trigger off each copy. Being able to gain so much life by unflipping manifest creatures gives the deck an incredible ability to virtually ignore what your opponent is doing. You're just setting yourself up for a turn when you eventually do something completely stupid, like Polukranos for 30 or cast a Genesis Hydra for 20, bounce, and replay it or attack with 35 creatures. Given this, the mirror can get completely stupid (courtesy MTGgoldfish):

The list I've been using is pretty much the one used by Daniel Cecchetti to win GP Miami:

 

Gw Devotion
Daniel Cecchetti - GP Miami (1st Place)
Creatures
4 Elvish Mystic
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Voyaging Satyr
2 Fleecemane Lion
4 Courser of Kruphix
4 Polukranos, World Eater
4 Genesis Hydra
1 Temur Sabertooth
4 Whisperwood Elemental
31 cards

Other Spells
1 Banishing Light
4 Mastery of the Unseen
5 cards
Lands
4 Windswept Heath
4 Temple of Plenty
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
2 Plains
9 Forest
1 Blossoming Sands
24 cards

Mastery of the Unseen

 

The maindeck here is really solid, although the 2/2 split of Fleecemane Lion between the main and board doesn’t really work for me. Apart from that, there's little to quibble about. (Temur Sabretooth) is a really interesting card and one I thought would be on the chopping block at first, but there's so many good things you can do with it when you have unlimited mana - rebuying a Genesis Hydra, Polukranos activation or post-board Reclamation Sage trigger, returning a manifested Mastery of the Unseen to hand or saving your board from a wrath. It feels cute, but it is worth it in the end as its most useful in very long games when you're most likely to see it, either naturally or by hitting it off a manifest or Genesis Hydra.

I do think the sideboard in general could use some work. I haven't had enough time to test the list extensively myself to settle on a perfect sideboard, but in the daily I'm currently in I've taken out 1x Last Breath and 1x Hunt the Hunter for 1x Glare of heresy and 1x Nylea, God of the Hunt. The matchups for these are explained below.

vs Abzan Control
In: Glare of Heresy Glare of Heresy Hornet Queen Fleecemane Lion
Out: Sylvan Caryatid Sylvan Caryatid Sylvan Caryatid Sylvan Caryatid Banishing Light

In most matchups, Banishing light will come out for more targeted removal - in this case Glare, which hits cards from Siege Rhino to Elspeth. And, once again, Caryatid's come out for greater threat density.

vs RW Aggro/Jeskai tokens
In: Reclamation Sage Reclamation Sage Hornet Nest Hornet Nest Setessan Tactics Hornet Queen Glare of Heresy Glare of Heresy
Out: Fleecemane Lion Fleecemane Lion Genesis Hydra Genesis Hydra Genesis Hydra Genesis Hydra Banishing Light

As above, a tough matchup to sideboard for, particularly given how many flavours of these decks there are. The above is a good starting point, but in the more grindy matchups you will want access to some number of Genesis Hydra instead of Tactics/Hornet Nest. Glare of Heresy

vs Mono Red
In: Hornet Nest Hornet Nest Setessan Tactics Fleecemane Lion Fleecemane Lion
Out: Genesis Hydra Genesis Hydra Genesis Hydra Genesis Hydra

You run maindeck lifegain, so don't need to lean on Nylea's Disciple post-board unlike the Gr deck.

vs Abzan Aggro
In: Hornet Queen Hunt the Hunter Glare of Heresy Glare of Heresy Fleecemane Lion Fleecemane Lion
Out: Genesis Hydra Genesis Hydra Genesis Hydra Genesis Hydra Banishing Light

vs UB/sultai control
In: Nissa, Worldwaker Nissa, Worldwaker Hornet Queen Fleecemane Lion Fleecemane Lion Reclamation Sage Reclamation Sage
Out: Sylvan Caryatid Sylvan Caryatid Sylvan Caryatid Sylvan Caryatid Banishing Light Polukranos, World Eater

vs Gx devotion
In: Nylea's Disciple Hornet Queen Setessan Tactics Hunt the Hunter
Out: Sylvan Caryatid Sylvan Caryatid Sylvan Caryatid Sylvan Caryatid Fleecemane Lion

Against Gw devotion, you want both Reclamation Sage, take the other Lion and a Courser out.

I'm honestly unsure if this deck has staying power now that it's a known quantity. While Mastery of the Unseen has huge upside, it is a truly slow card and I would expect enchantment hate to increase in response to this deck's rise. In addition, there are other cards which do bad things to the board state you create through it - Doomwake Giant and Perilous Vault to name a couple. In addition, it's very slow and with minimal interaction available, it's susceptible to random stuff that still hangs around sometimes like Souls and Whip. Still, it's an interesting deck to try out and when it "goes off" it can be truly exciting.

Conclusion

There's still a couple of weeks left of this format on magic online, it's nice that there's still new decks and strategies to explore and that FRF has had a really large impact on quite a well-established format. Until next time!

2 Comments

GW Devo is interesting to by CalmLittleBuddy at Tue, 03/17/2015 - 07:19
CalmLittleBuddy's picture
5

GW Devo is interesting to play, to say the least. I messed around with it for about a week. Not my stele of deck, but I can see how it managed to dominate an unprepared GP Miami.

The spike in popularity will be temporary, as it's a lot less dominant when people are prepared for it and understand how it works. I watched a lot of that GP and read the coverage and saw other folks trying it out in MtGO videos. It's not an easy deck to play, but if your opponent has never seen it they play right into its strengths and lose.

Interesting to see how it fares as the format adjusts for it.

Good stuff.

Abzan Advantage... by Fred1160 at Tue, 03/17/2015 - 08:30
Fred1160's picture

At the moment Abzan Advantage is a nice little niche card to run in Standard. You can get rid of an enchantment and bolster a dude. Even if they don't have an enchantment to sacrifice you can still bolster a dude in a pinch.