Devoted To Victory

Brad Nelson and the rest of his team agreed that #PTOrigins was the time to be the beatdown, they just did it with Dragonlord Atarka and friends instead. Check out what they did right, what they did wrong, and most importantly – what they’d do next.

Pro Tour Magic Origins was by far the most emotional Pro Tour I have yet to play in. Tensions were high with the looming threat of missing Worlds as well as the pressure to bring a good Standard deck for the team to do battle with. I liked where we stood going into the event, but Magic always has a way to throw you off course.

The journey to Vancouver started in Chicago where Steve Rubin, Gerry Thompson, Ross Merriam and myself met to start our preparation for the Pro Tour. I decided to play G/R Devotion since I was familiar with the archetype and found myself regretting not playing it in my last two events. I also couldn’t find anything that beat it.

There are very few times where the hipster in me gets drowned out by the realist. I usually love bringing something new to the table right when a new set comes out. I don’t really care if it is that good since my main goal is to have fun and attempt to find the best strategies. This time around, however, I found the best thing to already be widely known and hated against. It didn’t matter though since I wasn’t afraid of what people brought to the table. I was just going to beat them with Dragonlord Atarka.

This held true throughout testing for the Pro Tour once we set up shop in Dallas. I kept working on new decks, but I would always be the Devotion opponent and I loved every minute of it. At any given moment you would find me counting to seven and cackling at how busted the deck was. My amusement carried some weight and slowly the rest of the team fell in line behind the mighty Elder Dragon.

This was a mistake now in retrospect. Instead of finding new archetypes and tuning them before we put them against G/R Devotion, we simply wrote them off the moment they fell to the deck. We threw away too many decks due to this process, which was one of the reasons our sideboard looked so off for the actual metagame.

The biggest difference with our version of G/R Devotion was the absence of Courser of Kruphix. Early in testing we found the card to be the weakest part of the deck since the format seemed to be speeding up. It was good against red decks as well as anything trying to attack our mana with Anger of the Gods, but outside of those situations the card stunk. With the format speeding up, we decided to look at Shaman of Forgotten Ways as the main three-drop in the deck, which performed just off the charts against the decks it was good against.

And therein lays the problem. The format was speeding up to the point that hedging wasn’t an option. Courser of Kruphix originally helped to bridge a gap from early-game to late-game that was becoming much narrower as the format defined itself. Devotion had to jam to have a chance at beating the mirror, Rally, or archetypes we didn’t think of like U/R Thopters. The issue with this strategy was how weak the card was against attrition-based matchups. Shaman of Forgotten Ways may have been the best thing we can do on turn three against half the field, but it didn’t generate the cards needed to go long against those who wanted to remove our threats. We had to think of a way to beat those decks with the sideboard if we wanted to maindeck a card like Shaman of Forgotten Ways.

That’s when the updated sideboard we used took hold. Trail of Mystery was a pet card of mine that I always thought could be good but which never made it past theorycrafting. Finally there was a situation in which this card could be good, so I subtly hinted at the idea of the card. I got so many scoffs about trying it out except when I asked Gerry Thompson about it. He thought it sounded awesome! That was enough encouragement to start working on it.

Until you try the card, you will have no idea how impactful this little enchantment can be. On the surface it seems too slow, but that is exactly what you want against decks with board sweepers and Thoughtsieze. You have to slow down against decks like that since the most common way to lose is for them to force you to flood out by simply answering enough threats. That is G/R Devotion’s failure mode and it happens way too often for you not to have a plan to counteract it.

We knew the decks trying to control us would be using cards like Tragic Arrogance, Disdainful Stroke, Valorous Stance, Anger of the Gods, and Languish. Den Protector and Trail of Mystery could give us serious game against all of these spells while also allowing us to make our land drops and present real threats. The testing proved the theory and more and more teammates were on board.

Ideas flew around about how to build the deck, but only a few stuck. Steve Rubin wanted to play Crater’s Claws in the sideboard, which played out beautifully against slow decks where Den Protector came in while also helping us race decks like Abzan Rally. The only slots in question were the Rending Volleys.

Most of the team feared Mono Red and “some artifact deck” due to what we saw high-profile players purchase from the vendors. We weren’t snooping for this information, but ran across it organically by seeing Josh Utter-Leyton purchasing a handful of Ensoul Artifacts. Personally I thought that just meant he was not playing the team deck since they would have needed far more copies of the card if they all were playing it. It seems way more likely that he was off course and needed cards for his own beatdown deck which he often plays. That made me think the team was on Esper Dragons again since many of the teammates liked that deck and it tested well in our house.

I told the team that I didn’t want to change too much since we thought Jace-based decks would be popular and we needed the Rending Volleys to go along with the Trail of Mystery plan that we had worked so hard on. Without the removal spells, we would simply be too slow to deal with cards like Dragonlord Ojutai and Mantis Rider. I didn’t think Mono Red or U/R Thopters would be popular.

After round four we found both of those decks to be insanely popular. Multiple teams were on both decks and the metagame we prepared for didn’t show up. Morale was down and I personally wanted to jump off a cliff. I steered my team in a bad direction and they followed. We were pretty down about our chances, and I was scared for my chances at Worlds.

The numbers came in after the event and surprisingly enough we had the highest win percentage of any team. Granted, we did have Brian Kibler on the team who played his own GW deck to a 9-1 finish, but even without that we had a decent finish compared to the big teams who spoke so highly of their preparation. We considered this a failed tournament and still did just as good as the major teams. I wonder what a success is going to look like?

I finished in 28th after conceding the last round. I wasn’t playing for anything since Efro won enough rounds for me to not catch him for Player of the Year, and my opponent was playing for Platinum. I didn’t want to scoop since every Top Sixteen counts for the Hall of Fame, but it’s a tough spot to be put in. I did what I would want someone to do for me in that spot and called it a day.

Even though I didn’t like our list, we still finished with decent results. Personally I went 7-2 with the deck, and some of that was due to the new mulligan rule. I mulliganed so aggressively with this deck and I think that the rule should not be implemented due to exactly what I did at the Pro Tour. I understand there are different perspectives, but we shouldn’t live in a world where this is a mulligan on the draw.

Forest Forest Sylvan Caryatid Rattleclaw Mystic Wooded Foothills Xenagos, the Reveler Polukranos, World Eater

I was against Josh Utter-Leyton on the draw in game two. He was playing U/R Thopters and snap kept his seven. Both his and my deck can mulligan into powerful hands and neither of us are going to need our entire hand to win a game. That means that card quality is so much more important than mere quantity. Too many of his busted draws crush this hand, which makes me think that I need to mulligan into Elvish Mystic. The new mulligan rule allowed me to mulligan to six while still feeling like another seven since I can scry a card to the bottom that would have rotted in my hand anyway due to how fast the game should be.

I don’t think I would have finished 7-2 without this rule. I mulliganed numerous keepable hands in other circumstances under the realization that I had a higher chance of winning with a better hand. Normally the spectrum of better hands would be much smaller resulting in me keeping most of these hands, but seeing that extra card was often enough of a push to go to six or even five.

The new rules was great for Limited and I would love to live in a world where we could play with it in Limited but not Constructed. I just don’t think WotC wants different rules for different formats.

Moving forward, I think G/R Devotion is still a very strong deck choice. I’m not sold that the way we built our list is something that should become the norm, but it doesn’t seem bad for right now. Dromoka’s Command is the card most poised to make a comeback this weekend, which makes me not want to play Courser of Kruphix. This is the list I would play if I were competing this weekend:

The maindeck is still the same. I see no reason to change anything since I want to be doing the same thing every game. Maybe the one-of Nissa, Worldwaker isn’t necessary, but it is strong in some of the matchups and it’s still always at least reasonable against the matchups it isn’t that good against. It can just win games you shouldn’t be able to since no one can play around the card.

The major change is in the sideboard. Arc Lightning is actually amazing right now since it is decent against the Thopter decks but also deals with two creatures against Mono-Red. Currently the strategy against G/R Devotion is to win via Satyr Firedancer, which makes Nylea’s Disciple not even a reliable hate card against the matchup. I would much rather play the removal spell against them since they are banking on getting in early damage so they can get into position and burn you out.

Plummet makes a lot of sense right now since the only real way for U/R Thopters to win the game is to get a flying Ensoul Artifact going. It’s pretty easy to beat a 5/5 on the ground, but it’s almost impossible to race an early 5/5 Ornithopter. This sideboard spell not only acts as insurance against that deck’s nut draw, but it can also come in against anyone still playing Thunderbreak Regent which is a difficult card to beat for G/R Devotion.


VS Abzan Control


Elvish Mystic Elvish Mystic Elvish Mystic Elvish Mystic Shaman of Forgotten Ways Shaman of Forgotten Ways Shaman of Forgotten Ways Genesis Hydra Nissa, Worldwaker


Den Protector Den Protector Den Protector Den Protector Trail of Mystery Trail of Mystery Trail of Mystery Crater's Claws Crater's Claws

On the play you should cut two Polukranos, World Eater for Nissa, Worldwaker. It’s just nice to have more roadblocks for early Siege Rhinos.

VS Mono-Red


Xenagos, the Reveler Xenagos, the Reveler Xenagos, the Reveler Nissa, Worldwaker Genesis Hydra Genesis Hydra Genesis Hydra Dragonlord Atarka Dragonlord Atarka


Den Protector Den Protector Den Protector Den Protector Arc Lightning Arc Lightning Arc Lightning Crater's Claws Crater's Claws

I’ve found the best way to beat Mono-Red is to lower your curve and trade as much as possible. Their game-plan is to deal with early mana creatures and get in as much early damage as possible. This becomes much more difficult for them if our entire strategy shifts to trade early and often. Much like a red mirror, we will come out ahead by having more resources once everything trades off. This strategy also makes getting the trigger off Whisperwood Elemental happen much more often since they are constantly having to trade and tap out to deal damage.

VS G/R Devotion


Whisperwood Elemental Whisperwood Elemental Deathmist Raptor Deathmist Raptor Deathmist Raptor


Crater's Claws Crater's Claws Nissa, Worldwaker Arc Lightning Arc Lightning

Win the die roll.

VS U/R Thopters


Whisperwood Elemental Whisperwood Elemental Whisperwood Elemental Whisperwood Elemental Deathmist Raptor Deathmist Raptor Deathmist Raptor Genesis Hydra


Crater's Claws Crater's Claws Plummet Plummet Arc Lightning Arc Lightning Arc Lightning Nissa, Worldwaker

I’m not confident in this sideboarding strategy, but will be testing it as soon as I can get in some games. I just want you to know where I am at, but please test some games first to see if this works.

VS Kibler G/W Aggro

I do think Kibler had a great deck for the Pro Tour and that we should have played it. That said, I think it will be very popular in the coming weeks and is worth understanding.


Xenagos, the Reveler Xenagos, the Reveler Xenagos, the Reveler


Nissa, Worldwaker Crater's Claws Crater's Claws

I know it seems like very little sideboarding, but the matchup is volatile. Sometimes they will just dominate us with removal and sideboard cards, and sometimes we will crush them with Whisperwood Elementals. It’s a difficult matchup to sideboard in a way that lets us always win, which makes it a very jam-worthy matchup.

That’s actually something anyone deciding to pick this deck up should understand. G/R Devotion is not a deck that attritions anyone out. You are not Sylvester Stallone. You are the Russian guy who beats the crap out of him every single time but the one they put in the movies. Sure, they will get the glory sometimes, but you will always win more than you lose. Let them bask in the glory of victory every once in a while, knowing full well that you can pummel the crap out of them whenever they don’t draw perfectly.

You have to be aggressive with this deck. You have to jam and hope they don’t have it. You can’t hedge. You can’t be scared. Play something with removal if you are afraid of it. You have to put the cards on the table and ask them if they have it. You have to mulligan. You have to play without fear. G/R Devotion is not for the faint of heart. It’s not for those who like to tell bad beat stories. It’s not for anyone who wants to feel good about what they just did to their opponent. It’s for those who just want to win.

That’s all I have for you this week. I will be taking this weekend off even though the next Open Series event is only a few short hours away in D.C. I have Grand Prix London next weekend followed by only a week of testing before Worlds, and qualifying for that event has been a dream of mine for some time now. I can’t believe I found a way to become qualified for Worlds, but I will do my best to prove that I deserved it. I hope everyone has fun playing Magic this weekend, but I will be taking some much-needed time off from the game. See you next week!