Cincinnati and the Future of Black Devotion

Gerry Thompson is back and better than ever! This week he takes aim at Black Devotion. How will the archetype evolve after Andrew Tenjum’s win with B/G in Cincinnati? GerryT breaks down the winning list’s card choices and suggests an intriguing new direction.

I’m a little disappointed with the results from last weekend’s Standard Open in Cincinnati. The finals pitted a black-heavy devotion deck against
U/W Control for the umpteenth time. Where were the Mana Confluence decks that were supposed to shake up the format?

Well, it might take some time.

Eric Rill, the finalist, only had four cards from Journey into Nyx in his deck, while the winner, Andrew Tenjum, also had four–Temple of Malady! JOU
didn’t improve their decks much, but it didn’t matter, because those have been two of the best, most tuned decks since Theros came out. They have been
iterated upon countless times and both players likely knew them inside and out.

It’s rare for a small set to make a huge impact on Standard immediately, but I think we can all agree that JOU has some really powerful cards in it.
Prophetic Flamespeaker; Keranos, God of Storms; Athreos, God of Passage; Ajani, Mentor of Heroes; and Iroas, God of Victory were all regarded as potential
huge players going into JOU Standard. Hell, even Eidolon of the Great Revel and Dictate of Heliod have the potential to be great. And that doesn’t even
begin to consider how many doors Temple of Malady, Temple of Epiphany, and Mana Confluence can open.

I’m sure that once people find the best versions of G/B Dredge, Naya Hexproof, W/G Aggro, W/B Humans, and the best bloodrush/Prophetic Flamespeaker deck,
the format will look quite different. With JOU not being released on Magic Online quite yet, I’m not exactly in a position to try and make that happen.
Once it is, you can bet that I’ll be doing my part.

Tomoharu Saito posted a lot of decklists on his Twitter last week and most of them looked very powerful.
Christopher O’Bryant even took Saito’s U/W/R Control deck to a Top 4 finish in Cincinnati! If you want some technology, you should probably be following
Saito. Regardless of what you think of him, you can’t deny that he is a very talented deckbuilder.

The deck that I really want to talk about is the deck that won the entire tournament.

Tenjum’s list is good, but I’m a little concerned about the removal package, the two Golgari Guildgates, Vraska the Unseen, and his sideboard. Let’s tackle
those in order.

The Removal

The thing that worries me most is the lack of Bile Blight. While it isn’t a great removal spell on its own, as most important things aren’t killed by
-3/-3, Bile Blight has been necessary in situations where they’ve had an active Pack Rat or Elspeth, Sun’s Champion for a couple turns while I’m digging
with Underworld Connections.

While those situations aren’t entirely common, Bile Blight is a perfectly serviceable removal spell most of the time, and I’d prefer to not be drawing
incredibly slim if they play Pack Rat on turn 5. This is not an “It’s in there in case I need it scenario” because I’d be playing multiples and the
situations come up enough to warrant it.

The last point of contention is going to be a big one. Some of you may remember that in my last tournament, I made Top 8 of the StarCityGames Invitational
in Indianapolis with Mono-Black Devotion. My list was a little rough since I was just trying some stuff out, but I still felt like I was more advanced than
anyone else in the room.

I started moving toward more Pack Rats (but couldn’t pull the trigger on the fourth maindeck at that tournament), but I also only played three Hero’s
Downfalls. That’s right, I played Mono-Black and only played three of the “best” card. Either I’m stupid, couldn’t afford/find the fourth copy, or I had a
really good reason.

It could be all three, but I’d like to think it’s only the last.

Between Doom Blade, Ultimate Price, Devour Flesh, and now Bile Blight, black decks are not hurting for two-mana removal that kills most things. I’ve found
that having an abundance of two mana spells is important in black decks because Pack Rat isn’t enough to stabilize you against a good draw. There are also
plenty of three-drops in the deck and not enough two-drops. This leads to super-awkward fifth turns where you can only cast one spell, whereas a turn five
with two spells will either catch you up or put you very far ahead.

Killing Planeswalkers is an important aspect of Hero’s Downfall, but most people I see shave a Downfall in post-board games against control decks, me
included. You are better off threatening their Jace, Architect of Thoughts with board presence rather than planning on removing it with Hero’s Downfall,
especially after they use its -2 ability.

In the mirror match, several players have advocated cutting Hero’s Downfalls for Dark Betrayals, which is a poor use of sideboard slots. You’re replacing
one removal spell with another and you could easily get away with not sideboarding those Dark Betrayals in the first place. Yes, it’s a slight upgrade, but
is that worth the sideboard slots?

If you’re siding them out in the mirror match and siding out one even against a deck with seven Planeswalkers, it’s going to be difficult to convince me
why you should be playing four. The only time I regretted it at the Invitational was against a Jund Aggro deck with Lotleth Troll, Dreg Mangler, and Exava,
Rakdos Blood Witch, where both my Ultimate Prices and Doom Blades were dead.

Thankfully, Devour Flesh was still a card and Desecration Demon is very large.

TL;DR I like a couple of Bile Blights and only three Hero’s Downfalls.

Golgari Guildgate

Is basic Forest out of the question? Some of the B/W decks play Plains and it doesn’t seem like that big of an issue. Without Nightveil Specter in your 75,
you can get away with having “only” BBX on turn 3. There are some turn 4s where you’ll need BBBX (for something like Thoughtseize plus Hero’s Downfall) and
Mutavault plus Forest could be a death sentence, but the same is true of drawing too many enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands.

With Nightveil Specter, there’s always the possibility for some of those Golgari Guildgates to become a couple of copies of Temple of Mystery. I’m not as
convinced that Golgari Guildgate is incorrect, but it’s something to consider.

Vraska the Unseen

Vraska is fine, but not great. Ideally, you’d use it to blow something up, tick it up, and blow up another thing. That’s fine and all, but it isn’t
something I’d want out of a five-mana card, especially in my maindeck. I could see it being a sideboard card where it’s slightly better than your third
Disenchant if you wanted that many of those, but it seems like a very loose maindeck card. When “netdecking,” I’d advise against the Vraska, but your
results may vary.

The Sideboard

2 Dark Betrayal

1 Devour Flesh

2 Doom Blade

2 Golgari Charm

2 Pharika’s Cure

2 Erebos, God of the Dead

4 Duress

That’s pretty standard-looking, but we can do better. I see too many instances of diminishing returns and not enough cards that actually swing matchups.
The Dark Betrayals I’ve already covered, but Tenjum’s sideboard is effectively nine removal spells, four Duress, and a pair of Erebos, God of the Dead.

I generally keep one Dark Betrayal if I expect to play against blue devotion decks, as boarding in one against their four Nightveil Specters is pretty
awesome. Pharika’s Cure is fine as additional removal against very fast decks, but I prefer Drown in Sorrow instead. In some games, they go so far ahead of
you early on that you have no hope. Keep them honest and play the sweeper.

Duress can be great if you have enough threats that they have limited answers to, but I’m not seeing it. Rill’s deck has Detention Sphere, Banishing Light,
Deicide, and Pithing Needle to stop Underworld Connections or Erebos, while the rest of his deck makes Tenjum’s creatures look bad.

From my experience against U/W decks, your best bet is to find something like Underworld Connections, resolve it, and keep blowing up their Detention
Spheres to get it back. Tenjum’s sideboard does that quite well, but he’s also hoping to nab every Sphinx’s Revelation and every Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
they draw too. There should be something to go over the top of those cards (or at least compete with them).

When I was at Wizards of the Coast, I played in a Magic Online tournament called the R&D Challenge, where MTGOers could play against R&D
members during a five-round Swiss tournament. In that tournament, I played B/G Devotion and went undefeated.

Primeval Bounty was my All-Star.

I used it to tax their Supreme Verdicts and gain life to fuel my Underworld Connections. It might not seem like much, but it adds a powerful “kicker”
effect to each of your spells, allowing you to grind them out much more easily, even through a Sphinx’s Revelation or two. It took a while to actually win
some of those games, but eventually a 20/20 Mutavault took it home.

Additionally, I had an Illness in the Ranks and a Pithing Needle of my own to shut down Elspeth, Sun’s Champion in the late game. One copy of each was
sufficient, since if I could find them, I could usually protect them from Detention Sphere with Abrupt Decay or Golgari Charm. Since then, Revoke Existence
and Deicide have been printed, so it’s a little more difficult, but those effects are taxed enough against black devotion decks already.

Primeval Bounty is also useful in the very late game against other black devotion decks. With Temple of Malady legal, we will probably see a lot more B/G
Devotion decks, and therefore more Golgari Charms post-board. However, I still feel like it’s a card you want at least one of in your deck after

One thing that people don’t seem to consider very often is the fact that you can draw first against U/W Control. I don’t like keeping in Pack Rat against a
deck with Detention Sphere and Supreme Verdict (although it’s possible the Primeval Bounty configuration wants to keep in one or two, just to have a threat
that can close the game), so it’s unlikely that I’ll have an aggressive start.

Additionally, they aren’t playing Divination very often, so they are hoping to draw the right answers to your threats plus the right amount of lands plus
an Elspeth, Sun’s Champion or Sphinx’s Revelation. Personally, I like drawing first and watching them struggle to hit their sixth land drop. Eventually,
they have to start firing off any Sphinx’s Revelations they have just to dig for lands.

So where does that leave us?

I’ll be honest, I don’t like the prospects for the non-proactive devotion decks. Thoughtseize into Pack Rat isn’t very good against decks that play
one-drop, two-drop, even if you were on the play. Things get out of hand too quickly and I’m not super excited to have to play against stuff like Mogis’s
Warhound. Perhaps the whole “Mana Confluence will warp the format” is overblown, but I still believe those decks are very powerful.

I don’t want to be caught with my pants down.

The black spells are mostly good, but what if we added awesome green monsters instead of mopey black ones? Have you met my friend Paul?

Ah, yes, Paul the Hydra AKA Paulo Vitor Damo da Hydra.

Obviously Temple of Malady would be a huge help here, but I was already winning at a pretty good clip. The only concern I had was when I got into topdeck
wars against Mono-Black Devotion. With Pack Rat, their deck is certainly more robust than mine, but Primeval Bounty is often lights out.

The sideboard is kind of wonky, but I like everything aside from the Lifebane Zombies. Read the Bones is what ties the Primeval Bounty sideboard plan
together and Bramblecrush? Well…let’s just say that ever since Bobby Graves Bramblecrushed my Swamp with Underworld Connections on it, I haven’t been the
same. Since that’s my third Disenchant, it could easily be a Vraska, but for now I’m sticking with the ‘Crush.

One of the other decks I’m eager to try out once JOU hits MTGO is Mono-Green Devotion. It wasn’t great against Mono-Blue Devotion or U/W Control, but I
think the control matchup is easily salvageable. Mono-Blue Devotion is as well (if you really want to work for it), but right now, that deck isn’t very
popular, so there’s not really a need to.

Saito posted this decklist which really got my gears turning.

Initially, I didn’t think I’d like this deck very much, but it was very reminiscent of the very first deck I built with Priest of Titania and Thorn
Elemental. As it turns out, generating a bunch of mana is pretty fun.

I had been experimenting with maindeck Nylea’s Disciple in order to fight the aggressive decks on Magic Online. As is the case with most of my first drafts
of decks, there was a little too much air. Garruk wasn’t giving me enough fat to overwhelm my opponents with. Saito’s version fixes that nicely with Boon
Satyr, Eidolon of Blossoms, and a miser’s Worst Fears. If you wanted some Temples in your manabase already, a Worst Fears certainly isn’t the worst card to
splash in a deck that can generate 20 mana.

No Domri Rade is kind of sad, especially considering how well it works with Courser of Kruphix, but it was a brick when activating Garruk and the splash
wasn’t quite free. Domri wasn’t an All-Star in the non-control matchups anyway, but it seems tough to fight them without it. Here’s hoping that Eidolon of
Blossoms provides the engine necessary.

I’m really excited to start playing with JOU and I’m super jealous of all of you that have been able to already. If you get a chance to play in the StarCityGames.com Open in Knoxville this weekend, you should definitely

Otherwise, if you guys have anything you think might be tier one with a little tuning, let me know! Together, we’ll dethrone U/W and B/X!