Devotion To Nyx

Two-time SCG Standard Open Top 4 competitor Adrian Sullivan takes a look at Journey into Nyx to see what new cards Standard devotion decks might gain!

This weekend is the Journey into Nyx Prerelease. I don’t know what you’ll be doing, but I’ll be playing the Saturday morning event at my favorite local shop, Misty Mountain Games, in Madison, Wisconsin. It used to be that you’d find me at the Midnight Prerelease; maybe I’m getting old, but I just can’t seem to make that event happen anymore.

In a way it’s kind of funny because lately I have been up incredibly late thinking about Journey into Nyx, pouring over spoilers, scribbling down decklists, testing, crumpling up pieces of paper, and doing it all over again. The thing about new sets that is exciting to me is the realm of possibility that they represent.

Of course, a part of what is a reality in Magic is that everything new tends to be from something that is old. Sometimes this is abundantly obvious.

Take a look at these two decks:

What is different about these two lists? (“Whad’ya Know?”)

Not much!

A realistic assessment of the differences in these lists makes it even less than you might otherwise think. A Jace, Architect of Thought and a Cyclonic Rift become a pair of Syncopate. The sideboard shifts around a bit, but that’s about it.

It’s almost hard to believe that in between these two deck’s tournament lives an entire set came out.

Sam may not be as devoted to Mono-Blue Devotion as he is to, say, Faeries, but I know that Sam likes this deck a lot and that he’s spent most of his time in Theros block Standard with it in his hands. He flat-out called it the best deck in the format at one point (a position with which I definitely disagree).

Sometimes with new sets decks that have a very particular plan simply don’t pick up all that much. For this article I’m going to go over four rational devotion decks and see what they pick up from Journey into Nyx. And to start it all off, we’ll continue with blue (or Sam Black if you prefer).

Sam Black (Er, Blue Devotion)

One of the most difficult parts about this deck is finding room to play. Some people have played around with the mana, but I’ve generally found that the wiggle room here is pretty small. 25 lands may seem like a lot, but this deck is surprisingly mana hungry, has several powerful card advantage engines, and has the potential to have a very controlling sideboard plan.

Many people have played around with the spells, but the general consensus seems to be:

2-4 card draw spells (Jace, Architect of Thought / Bident of Thassa)
2-5 permanent handling spells (Cyclonic Rift / Rapid Hybridization)
0-2 miscellaneous spells
27-28 creatures
24-25 lands

This actually doesn’t give a lot of room to play around, so we have to be careful. About one of the only places I’ve seen people skimp on creatures is in the one-drops. The new set does include two one-mana creatures I can imagine seeing play, albeit in small numbers.

The most likely one is this card:

Seven is certainly a lot of mana so stealing creatures with the Siren is only going to happen in the late game, but this is actually a potentially strong remedy to being mana flooded. If the game has gotten to that point, there isn’t much that the deck can usually do if it isn’t already deeply established; an overloaded Cyclonic Rift is at its best in this deck when you’re already far ahead on the table. Hypnotic Siren is actually a card that can turn around a game when you’re not established, and it isn’t a horrible one-drop even if it isn’t incredible.

Hypnotic Siren is a card that encourages us to make sure not to dip below two copies of Bident of Thassa and might even make us go up to three. It’s even possible that we might end up wanting to be at twelve one-drops, though it seems unlikely since there is a real danger of Flying Men flooding. Still, I actually think that it is probably correct to add one or two copies of Hypnotic Siren to blue devotion, marking the first inclusion of a new card in the deck since Theros was released. Hallelujah!

The very unlikely card to consider is this:

I’m not going to waste too much time on Dakra Mystic. Theoretically, I like Mikokoro, Center of the Sea style effects in a wide variety of decks. The problem is that I just don’t know that this deck has the spare mana resources lying around to be dumped into a Mystic —at least not in the games where the deck is doing well. I think it is worth noting the existence of the card as a potential long game plan against decks that are going to do a lot of trading; Dakra Mystic can just keep activating every turn and only supply you a card when it is worth the cost of theirs.

That being said, as unexcited as I am about Dakra Mystic, I think it is the next most likely card to see inclusion. If I’m right, I guess it’s a big “oh well” for blue devotion players. You already have a good 75 cards, people; enjoy your zero to three from Journey!

Black Devotion

As Sam Black is a player many associate with Mono-Blue Devotion, so is Owen Turtenwald associated with Mono-Black Devotion. Let’s check out his lists before and after Born of the Gods.

Other than some minor shifts (Erebos, God of the Dead to the sideboard, an increase from three to four copies of Temple of Deceit), not much changed. Well, except for this card:

In the first major event after the release of Born of the Gods, Owen brought the full playset of Bile Blight. The tournament was the very first Super Sunday Series Championship, an invitational event where a handful of players play for a ton of cash at Wizards of the Coast headquarters. It was a small field, and Owen may very well have been the most talented player in the tournament. With his victory at the beginning of Born of the Gods Standard, four copies of Bile Blight became almost the de facto standard in Standard.

Owen himself quickly moved away from Bile Blight (and the Drown in Sorrow in his board), flipping his Biles and Devours to go to four copies of Devour Flesh and two copies of Bile Blight (with none in the board), but the full set was still what most players were running. It wasn’t much of a contribution from Born of the Gods, but it was still something.

The most likely card I expect to see join the team from Journey into Nyx is this:

Oops! I mean this card:

Brain Maggot is a great additional answer to all manner of problems. Thoughtseize and Duress have tended to be a huge source of trouble for so many decks, with Lifebane Zombie literally making Jamie Wakefield pen angry words and causing G/R Monsters players everywhere to seethe. Brain Maggot may look innocuous, but sometimes all you need to do with a problem card is take it out for now.

Hitting creatures is of course a great ability. In some games all you need to do is keep the turn 3 Courser of Kruphix or Nightveil Specter off the table for a turn or two to get what you need. Barring mass removal, getting rid of a Maggot is just another card that isn’t getting rid of your Pack Rat or Desecration Demon or Nightveil Specter.

The question of numbers is a difficult one. It could be that Brain Maggot is worthy of maindeck inclusion, or it could be a card we see as few of as one or two of in the sideboard. The test will be the proving ground of the new metagame.

This is the only other card I saw that struck me as worth thinking about:

Oops! I mean this card:

Black devotion players would probably be salivating if Dictate of Erebos had Grave Pact’s prohibitive mana cost. Alas, they’ll have to survive with it being able to be cast as a trick.

Here is the crazy thing—in the very matchups that you are most likely to want this card, your opponent is going to have reasons to believe your mana is up for other reasons.

In nearly all of the matchups where you can flash in Dictate of Erebos, they are also matchups where Pack Rat is at its best, and it is very reasonable for the black devotion player to have mana open. When any effort that you direct toward killing a creature could also end up costing you an extra card, very quickly you’ll find yourself being grinded into oblivion.

In the past Grave Pact was a backbreaking card in the grind of Survival of the Fittest decks on each other or as a monstrous thing to do to a player in midrange mirrors if your mana was able to support it. Dictate of Erebos will end up playing the same role, only these days midrange is even more prevalent.

Red Devotion

Unlike its more popular cousins, red devotion doesn’t have a champion that is particularly famous for championing it. As such, when comparing two successful red devotion lists to each other, there is going to be a much more wild divergence in ideas. Heck, these two decks even have different semi-support colors. Even so, you can still see that they have a lot in common.

Here is a pre-Born of the Gods list:

And here is a post-Born of the Gods list:

Ignoring for a moment the major differences in plans because of support colors (Domri Rade for longevity from Reyes and Legion’s Initiative for durability from Syed), these decks have practically the same plan: create an explosive Fanatic of Mogis or otherwise create an overwhelming turn. In Syed’s list Fanatic of Mogis in combination with Legion’s Initiative provides a cute exercise in punishment for an opponent unable to respond.

And again, even after Born of the Gods there were no new cards for the deck.

Amazingly though unlike each of the previous decks, there are actually quite a few bits of raw material to work with here.

Let’s start with the most majestic:

Particularly in a deck that is already planning on the attack phase being a major part of its victory, this card seems just incredible. In a deck with Boros Reckoner, I also wouldn’t be surprised at Iroas being made flesh very often. Playing Iroas will absolutely require actually committing to Temple of Triumph and Sacred Foundry, but that is certainly doable. And if need be, we can even try out that Mana Confluence everyone is talking about.

Iroas just feels like it says “no one gets to block.” For a Fanatic of Mogis deck, that is probably just fine.

The next most noteworthy card to me has to be this one:

So far red devotion actually feels like it’s the most exciting place for this card to find a home. Without getting tricky with anything like Ghor-Clan Rampager, you still have cards like Purphoros, God of the Forge; Hammer of Purphoros; or Xenagos, God of Revels, which have the capacity to make it seem unfair. Of these, I’m mostly partial to the simplicity of Hammer of Purphoros.

The card advantage that Prophetic Flamespeaker can provide makes me look to the planeswalkers in Reyes’ maindeck. I’ve actually never been partial to Domri Rade in this kind of deck because even though it’s effective, I’ve also felt it wasn’t contributing to the overall game plan of “kill ’em dead.” Taking the time off from killing the opponent to maybe sometimes get cards was always frustrating. The “fight” in Domri felt like it was effective, but I was never completely convinced. Prophetic Flamespeaker seems like a great fit for a card advantage engine that can actually fight the right fight.

Besides those two cards that seem like easy ones to consider, there are also these two less clearly auto-include cards:

Spawn of Thraxes is basically a card to plug into the explosive side of the deck, playing the role of “obscene Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx thing” or “devotion to Mountains Dragon” in the few flooded games. It actually might be reasonable in small numbers in a very heavy Mountain build, but I have serious doubts about whether that is the way to go. That being said, it could have a place.

Eidolon of the Great Revel is competing with Frostburn Weird and Ash Zealot (Burning-Tree Emissary isn’t bothering to even get in the ring with this pretender). I don’t think there is enough room in the deck to run more than eight or nine of these cards, so the choice about which to run with is really a question of metagame. What kind of metagame you’d actually need for Eidolon to make sense though is probably one you’re more likely to see in Legacy.

Looking at all of these things together, I actually came to a brew that I quite like:

Yeah, I snuck Banishing Light into the Red Devotion deck. It is, in part, because the card is just an incredible catch-all answer to whatever you’re seeking out. It is also because it’s really worth mentioning Banishing Light in the absence of a great White Devotion list.

White Devotion

What makes these other devotion decks tick? Simply put, something that is worth your time to be devoted to. Thassa, God of the Sea is worth your time. Gray Merchant of Asphodel is worth your time. Burning-Tree Emissary in red or green is worth your time. In white though we don’t have the ability to explode into a powerful Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, nor do we have a God (Heliod, God of the Sun) or a devotion creature that is worth it. Evangel of Heliod is as close as we get. Close, but no cigar.

It’s possible Iroas, God of Victory or Athreos, God of Passage might change that. But it will basically take an entirely new archetype (or a vast reworking of an existing one) to do it.

Green Devotion

Finally, we get to green devotion, with two very different lists. The Born of the Gods list from Chris Renner is a midrange aggro list, ready to fight it out with Polukranos, World Eater and Kalonian Hydra. The post-Born of the Gods list from Mason Lange is a true aggro list, basically an update on Stompy. They share a great bit in common in support of this little monster:

Here they are.

Again, even though Mason Lange’s list is from after Born of the Gods was released, you can see no evidence of the set in his deck. His list is designed to be able to make use of the explosiveness of the early game (witness Mending Touch!) and isn’t making use of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx in the way that it is surprising to see Renner skip out on (even one Nykthos with Garruk, Caller of Beasts seems good). Looking at Journey into Nyx, there is one card that both decks might want access to.

Golden Hind is “just” a mana dork, but this kind of archetype has never been afraid of a mana dork. Unlike Voyaging Satyr, Golden Hind can actually manage an attack phase fairly reasonably. Much like Mason’s use of Brushstrider, Golden Hind can be a followup play to Burning-Tree Emissary in the way that Kalonian Tusker can fail at. When you’re playing a deck that can be excited to get to five mana for Boon Satyr, Golden Hind is certainly worthy of paying attention to.

If Golden Hind were simply an alternative Elvish Mystic, I think we’d definitely want to see it in the deck, even in the face of Supreme Verdict decks. A part of what makes this deck so scary is the ability to come out the gate faster and harder. Golden Hind isn’t really much in the “harder” department, but it definitely helps with the “faster” plan. With sideboarded Mistcutter Hydra as a part of the plan for either build of this deck against a deck like blue devotion (or even Supreme Verdict decks), Golden Hind can help execute that plan well.

One of the real problems with this deck though has got to be this card:

A bit like a half-cost half-power Flametongue Kavu against green devotion, Tidebinder Mage is so good against this strategy that Mason Lange made clear his plan for the matchup: “hope the metagame has gotten rid of it.” I don’t know if that needs to be the plan anymore thanks to this card:

With this card, you can actually turn your team into a group of pistoleros, shooting up every Tidebinder Mage in town and getting rid of some of the pesky blue guy’s friends at the same time. An initial investment of two mana feels like a lot when you might be facing Rapid Hybridization or Cyclonic Rift, but with only one mana per extra target that actually no longer feels like a realistic threat.

Setessan Tactics is so good in fact that I think it ends up being a quick four-of in the board if blue devotion is big and a three-of or more if it is not. Hell, maybe I’m underestimating it, and it belongs in the main.

Aside from these two cards, I don’t see much. Bassara Tower Archer has some initial appeal until you realize how small it hits and how plenty of other better cards could be played that can actually combine with Burning-Tree Emissary mana. The only reason Kalonian Tusker makes the cut is that 3/3 for GG is a lot. 2/1? Not so much.

Coming Up

As I said at the top of the article, I’ll be playing my Journey into Nyx Prerelease at Misty Mountain Games in Madison, Wisconsin. After that though you can find me the next weekend in Cincinnati, Ohio, trying to win some cash money at the SCG Open Series. I’m definitely looking forward to that.

The following weekend I’ll be at Grand Prix Minneapolis, and I have some exciting news!

That night will be the start of a new feature you’ll be seeing at participating Grand Prix. As a part of the official Grand Prix festivities, I’ll be moderating a panel called PlanesTalkers, where you’ll have some great minds from the game of Magic speaking to the audience and taking questions from both Twitter and the live audience.

Since Grand Prix Minneapolis is Modern, this PlanesTalkers will be exclusively about that format! Our panel will be the following people:

  • Brian Kibler – Two-time Pro Tour winner, Hall of Fame member, and Dragon Master
  • Craig Wescoe – Champion of Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze
  • Shaun McLaren – Champion of the most recent Modern Pro Tour, Pro Tour Born of the Gods
  • Toby Elliott – Head Judge, Level 5 responsible for tournament policy, and Commander Rules Committee member

I’m excited to be able to bring these people together to talk Magic for all of you, so I hope I see you up in Minneapolis for PlanesTalkers and the Grand Prix. Heck, I hear that one of the side events wins you a steak dinner date with Brian Kibler.

As we begin our Journey into Nyx, I know I’m excited about the next few weeks of Magic. I can’t wait to see as many of you as I can!