A Rewarding Meal

Looking for a fun Born of the Gods Standard deck to play at Friday Night Magic this week? Then check out Matt’s two brews utilizing new cards!

What a tasty dish!

I have devoured Born of the Gods, enjoying every taste I can from every corner of the set. There’s a lot of spice, a bit of excess fat, and some really tender lean cuts of succulent staples just waiting to be enjoyed. Lucky for you and me, we got our first course this past weekend.

We’ve already seen a deck take down the new field in Standard at the SCG Open Series in Nashville. What kind of new cards pushed the #1 deck to the top of the pack in this new format?

Wait . . .

A fine palette can discern that there’s nothing new here. Eric had a great day and piloted this deck with aplomb, but what are we to make of a new format whose first winner’s deck is devoid of anything from the new set? Maybe he didn’t have any of the new cards when it came time to register on Saturday morning, or more likely he just didn’t want any of the new cards to maximize his strategy. The 75 he used were the same 75 he could have used in October.

Does this say anything about Born of the Gods’ contribution or is Mono-Blue Devotion maxed out given the current pool?

I always believe there’s room for improvement and so do you; otherwise, you wouldn’t be here! Eric’s proven that a good pilot behind a known quantity can dominate a brand-new format, but what gems can we pick from the bones of Born of the Gods?

I’ve made about five dozen brews and new takes on old brews since Kiora, the Crashing Wave was spoiled to the present day. The nature of the format mandates the inclusion of certain pieces a brew needs to successfully function, but there’s still plenty of room in the recipe for something magnificent.

The first sip comes courtesy of one of the most overlooked cards in the new set. Its effect looks familiar, but the devotion requirement puts most players off and rightly so. If you’re like several of the folks against whom I tested this brew, you may have to ask what the card does.

Boros Fury-Shield this is not, but it did intrigue me. As this was alphabetically the first card in the set, this was where I started, and even then I nearly passed it by. I’ve been chopping at white devotion for a minute, but I’ve never gotten results worth discussing. Most of the ramp targets, whether Angel of Serenity or Planar Cleansing, never seemed quite sexy enough to land a spot in a real deck; in the latter case, devotion made pursuing this path self-destructive. Note also that Acolyte’s Reward prevents damage dealt to a creature, not player. This is not a Fog, folks, and I fear that some of you may have assumed as much and cast it in hopes of protecting yourself in the Prerelease.

Well, in your defense, it’s not normally a Fog.

Palisade Giant was one of my favorite releases from Return to Ravnica. I fiddled around with her shortly after her release, but eighteen months later she may have found a real home. Providing you protect her from harm, she can soak damage for you or your planeswalkers with her seven toughness, nullifying the progress of a burn deck or aggro deck and acting as a soft Fog for turn after turn. With enough devotion, you can flip an attack on its back, turning the entire attack into death for your opponent.

The Mono-White Devotion shell is fairly well known, but here’s the adjustment I’ve made to include Palisade Giant.

Palisade Pals works to apply consistent pressure on your opponent while adding significant white devotion to your board. Once you’ve added sufficient presence, you can deflect any attack and can swing fearlessly, knowing your Palisade Giant will absorb the damage dealt to your own creatures in combat. With that, let’s look at the creatures, most of which you’ll already know.

In the creature corner, Precinct Captain and Boros Reckoner each give maximum devotion while providing great early pressure. Precinct Captain has seen mid-level play in mono-white builds; in aggro matchups, it still provides an excellent on-time play and can get out of control with protection. Following it up with Spear of Heliod is still a great feeling for any tempo and/or weenie player. Every point of power you give it makes the first strike more relevant.

Boros Reckoner is still bonkers in most aggro matches, though I fear that Bile Blight might push the Reckoner out of contention as a powerhouse it still provides a very awkward situation for lots of aggressive decks. Three devotion for three mana is as good a deal as you’re gonna get, and the following turn you can power out a formidable threat with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx.

Judge’s Familiar plays a vital role in Mono-Blue Devotion, putting off removal by a turn and providing evasive damage as early as turn 2. Here it plays a very similar role, and its ability to interact with the stack is very valuable in a color that only occasionally gets that chance. Brimaz, King of Oreskos is easily the most talked about card in the set. After playing him in several proxy matches, he is a house when removal doesn’t smite him right off the bat. His ability to dodge Lightning Strike and Bile Blight will put him over the top of many cheap answers. The ability to block for value right off the bat is essential when you’re behind, and his double white cost means he will pay for himself in devotion too.

Palisade Giant, even with the ability to devote her out quickly, still costs six mana, so only three of her are in the list. That being said, getting out a pair is advisable if you fear a blowout removal spell for which you lack the protection. Your opponents won’t think she’s a problem, but they’ll realize the moment you can’t kill her what a bear she can be.

You’ll also find two copies of each playable white god. Heliod, God of the Sun has historically been the worst of the five monocolored gods, being in the weakest devotion color and lacking a particularly helpful static and activated ability. Here however Heliod can be active early, and the vigilance lets you play offense and defense like a pro. First strike and evasion help keep you relevant on the back end too, and it is kind of fun to just push your creature cards forward on the table instead of "having to turn them sideways." What a pain.

Ephara, God of the Polis, has the benefit of interacting directly with Heliod’s token production, giving you up to two additional cards per turn exchange. Brimaz and Precinct Captain each produce their own tokens as well, meaning Ephara will frequently replace herself the turn you cast her. She’s the only card in the deck that requires blue mana, but she’s worth it.

Moving on to the spells, Brave the Elements takes on a whole new light here. Sure, it’s a great alpha strike tool or removal protection for your white creatures, but with Palisade Giant out all damage is dealt to her. Brave the Elements then becomes a one-sided Holy Day, letting you swing and block to your heart’s content knowing you have protection to cover the counterattack. Thankfully, because of the nature of devotion decks, you can frequently resolve the Giant and have mana ready to protect her if need be.

Acolyte’s Reward, as a devotion-required card, does nothing without creatures. At the right moment this can utterly turn a game around. Bear in mind that you can reroute the damage you’d deal to one of their creatures into extra damage too. If your Heliod becomes blocked by their active Erebos, God of the Dead, for example, you can prevent the pointless damage to their God and aim it at his controller instead (kind of a white trample if you will). Naturally, targeting your Giant lets you prevent damage dealt to you or your permanents, but because the Giant takes the damage, you can redirect as much white devotion as you have in damage wherever you want.

Six noncreature permanents round out the spells, including two copies of Spear of Heliod. The Spear is a great Glorious Anthem, but the slightly slower nature of this deck coupled with the legendary restriction of the Spear keeps its count to a humble two. Ajani, Caller of the Pride is a simple devotion contributor, but his ability to bounce a God or King in the red zone gives him a great "over the top" factor. You can also add a +1/+1 counter to your Palisade Giant, giving you better padding for an attack.

Elspeth, Sun’s Champion has already earned her rep as a finisher in U/W Control decks, but she also has the unique ability (assuming you don’t have a Spear of Heliod) to use her -3 ability to destroy only your opponent’s creatures. Gods aside, this deck sports no creatures that have more than three power unaided, so you can smash up their best brawlers and get in the red zone worry free. Not to mention her token ability, which triggers Ephara and provides blockers.

The land base is super simple. With only two cards out of 60 requiring blue mana, only the dual lands were used to support them. This deck can pose as an aggro deck, so you don’t want to stuff it with a bunch of dual lands or colorless producers. I found however that Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx pretty much has to be a playset for any deck that relies heavily on devotion.

The sideboard is fairly straightforward. Soldier of the Pantheon is getting more and more slippery as people rely on Abrupt Decay, Dreadbore, and Nightveil Specter to keep their opponents reined in. It’s also an efficient fighter if Judge’s Familiar is irrelevant, such as against a 30+ creature deck. Banisher Priest is a good aggro participant too, but it also does a great job of pinning down Master of Waves, Desecration Demon, or any other targetable threat against a removal-light list.

Glare of Heresy is a preemptive inclusion; I have a feeling that white could be the dominant color as it finds additions in Brimaz; the potential of G/W and the resurgence of, well, Voice of Resurgence; and the crippling power of familiar cards like Detention Sphere and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. In the mirror match or anything close, you’ll be glad you have a set handy. Finally, Rootborn Defenses comes in as an extra wall of defense for Palisade Giant. The deck produces enough tokens that you might get use out of the populate feature as well, but the indestructibility side of the spell can save you from an embarrassing reset. Remember, in devotion decks you can play out a fair number of creatures but have enough mana to cast protection spells too.

In practice this deck was very exciting. Palisade Giant locked some decks completely out of the game, and Ephara, God of the Polis kept my hand full a surprising percentage of turns. Both Ephara and Heliod, God of the Sun were frequently rumbling around as creatures, often activated just on the back of two planeswalkers and each other. The deck kept pressure on sweeper-light decks, forcing them to use their Doom Blades and Devour Fleshes early to stay alive amidst token-producing mayhem. Furthermore, Brimaz, King of Oreskos was just as stupidly good as everyone’s been saying.

This deck found and conquered Mono-Black Devotion, G/R Monsters, and W/R Aggro with ease, but I’m certain it would struggle against Mono-Blue Devotion and U/W Control. Anything red or green will be hard pressed to close against this deck, and black decks are also soft in the cases where their removal is negated.

It’s not perfect, but this is in my opinion a very strong draft of a final potentially powerful list. It needs more testing to prove it’s the real deal, but I was amazed at how few decks could get on the other side of the Giant even when I never drew too many.

Now, while the first deck can switch-hit pretty well, the second swing I’m tossing at you is a bit more romantic. It’s time for a double date.

This deck, which combines two female planeswalkers, one male planeswalker, and one potentially male planeswalker, seeks to control the game with removal and planeswalker activations in a clean and efficient shell. While not the most groundbreaking deck you might have ever seen, Kiora, the Crashing Wave breathes a much needed dose of life into BUG, one of my favorite three-color wedges.

This creature-light and removal-heavy list capitalizes on Whelming Wave, a new "sweeper" from Born of the Gods. I know it has gotten passed over in reviews, but I can tell you this card is very effective in all but the speediest of aggro matchups. Devotion decks get greedy, and resolving the Wave against any color devotion deck will put them back several turns and give your spot removal more power. The deck’s plan is simple: resolve planeswalkers at the right time and proceed to protect them until you can ultimate.

Also, my verdict on Kiora, the Crashing Wave is that she is pretty darn solid.

I find that in most situations involving this deck I’m not interested in using her Explore feature at all (though I’ve drafted several decks where that is her express purpose in the deck.)  Instead, she’s often insulated well enough to shut down your opponent’s more troublesome threat, even if it’s just an unactivated Mutavault. As I surmised, she feels a lot like Tamiyo, the Moon Sage in her "pin their only threat after I cast Day of Judgment until I ultimate" ways. Kiora comes out a turn (or two) earlier, and although she’s a bit more limited in her plus ability, she goes off as early as four turns later. A 9/9 Kraken each turn is enough to close out most any game in a hustle.

Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver also gives you a great option alongside Whelming Wave. Evacuation their board and then resolve a threat of your own for zero mana from the retinue it’s collected. Vraska the Unseen and Jace, Memory Adept act as trial walkers, but each copy has proven itself in its own way.

In other unusual spell news, Golgari Charm is a freaking house, man. If you don’t have your copies, get them now. This card is easily maindeckable.

This was the very first deck I made, and it’s not changed too much since the full spoiler was released. It has proven to be effective against control decks and midrange decks, but aggro decks frequently give it a lot of trouble. The speed and rhythm of it is very satisfying, however, and this Super Friends style deck is well tested. So if you prefer to give something with fewer creatures a whirl, take Kiora out to dinner and see if she likes you too.

We consumed a lot in a short time here, but the format is still filled to the brim with exciting new spells and creatures. Everything has its own unique flavor, and before long we’ll sample them all. Meanwhile, the format will continue to evolve and engulf the new card offerings. What new aggro decks will eclipse the old? Will control swell back on the waves of Kiora and friends? Is Courser of Kruphix actually the best green midrange card in Standard (I think it could be)? What do you think of the set as a whole, and what are your reactions after your first blush with the set in Constructed?

For me, I know I’ll be back for seconds.