I really don’t want to write another article about Pack Rat. I really don’t want to explain exactly how you beat the mirror with Mono Black. And I really, truly, don’t want to write another article on Thoughtseize because I can only take so much.
And if I can only take so much of Mono Black, then I’m sure you must be ****ing sick of it.
But the Grand Prix in Chicago proved once again how good Mono Black Devotion and all of its weapons are. The biggest joke is that no one can decide which version of Mono Black is better. Do we delve into green for a more versatile removal spell in Abrupt Decay? Do we herald the return of Rakdos with a red splash? Is Lifebane Zombie actually necessary to beat the green decks, or should we put more focus on the mirror with Nightveil Specter?
All of these questions are good ones, but looking at the Top 8 of Chicago has me very frustrated because I just don’t know which list is “the best.” So I’m going to acknowledge that Black Devotion and its variants are all pretty good, and basically do the same types of things. Personally, I think Jared Boettcher’s list is my favorite, but the mirror can fall many different ways. Sometimes you lose to mana screw, mulligans, Thoughtseize, or a combination of many different elements.
Before we go too deep, here is what I would play if I were to play this archetype next week.
With Mono Red Aggro winning the last few StarCityGames.com Opens and the Season Two Invitational in the hands of Tom “The Boss” Ross, access to more copies of Drown in Sorrow is a must. You aren’t going to be able to beat the aggressive decks with one-for-one removal when they are trying to flood the board. Their spells are cheaper than yours and they will overwhelm you quite easily if you don’t have a way to sweep their creatures away.
Before Drown in Sorrow was printed, I used to play Shrivel in my sideboard of Mono Black Devotion. It was a necessary evil for fighting small white and red decks, because they had virtually no fear of a sweeper effect from Mono Black. And with people putting so much emphasis on the mirror, Mono Blue, and U/W Control, their sideboards are leaving them vulnerable. Red decks seem to be everywhere except the Grand Prix Chicago Top 8, but that could be for a multitude of reasons.
For one, GP Chicago was flooded with Blue Devotion. Most of the better players in the room were playing it because it beat up on Jund Monsters and all the other green and red decks. With red decks winning over the last few weeks at SCG Opens, I expect that trend to continue. While Blue Devotion will pick up in popularity to prey on Jund Monsters and Mono Red, that gives us a lot of information on what types of decks we need to prepare for.
One card that I cut from Jared’s list was Mizzium Mortars. Without a reasonable expectation to overload it, I think it is just a worse version of Ultimate Price in a number of situations. Neither card can kill an opposing Mutavault, but I would much rather my removal spell be instant speed and also be able to kill Polukranos or prevent me from taking four damage from a Stormbreath Dragon. Killing Desecration Demon in the mirror is also a pretty big game, and the majority of players still play Lifebane Zombie over Nightveil Specter so your removal is probably safe in that regard.
Mizzium Mortars is a card that is obviously good but depends on what you’re trying to kill, and with that expected influx of Blue Devotion, being able to kill Master of Waves is key. You are already playing Dreadbore, which doesn’t take care of Master or its elemental army, so splitting the removal in order to be more versatile just makes sense.
The other choices in Jared’s deck are pretty sweet. Having a way to continually keep control decks down via Rakdos’s Return and Sire of Insanity while also disrupting them in the early game with Duress and Thoughtseize is awesome. This is nothing “new” exactly, as we saw this spin on Black Devotion at Grand Prix Cincinnati just a few months ago.
Perhaps I am overloading on the hate cards for red decks, but Pharika’s Cure and Drown in Sorrow are just too good against them for me to leave these cards at home. People love casting Burning-Tree Emissary, and I love sweeping their board. Hilariously enough, the U/W Control decks don’t always have enough time to cast Supreme Verdict before dying, which makes me want to cast Drown in Sorrow even more. The fact that it also gets around Boros Charm making the team indestructible is hilarious.
The main differences between my list and Jared’s is that I am focusing more on a metagame I would expect at an SCG Open rather than a Grand Prix. When you have three byes in an event like a Grand Prix, you can judge the field much more easily. You will play against far fewer aggressive decks because most “good players” who start a tournament with three wins will be less likely to play those decks. If you are going into a completely open field such as an SCG Open, playing more cards to fend off aggro decks is where I want to be.
One thing I noticed about the decks at Grand Prix Chicago was that many of them have given up on Devour Flesh. When everyone is going to copy Ben Friedman’s list from the SCG Invitational and leave Blood Baron at home, playing Devour Flesh is pretty terrible. Yes, it can answer a number of Hexproof threats, but not having control over what creature you kill is pretty miserable. Judge’s Familiar or Foundry Street Denizen getting the axe is the last thing I want, because they have so many other creatures that deserve to be put down instead.
I’m not positive on the split between Doom Blade and Ultimate Price, but I do know that killing Mutavault in a number of situations is important and should not be overlooked. Doom Blade is also much stronger against Blue Devotion, as Frostburn Weird and Mutavault can be problematic otherwise.
Alright… that’s enough for now on Black Devotion. Next, onto something a bit sweeter.
Winning On Turn One In Modern
If you haven’t paid much attention to Modern lately, you should. The format is healthy, deckbuilding is fluid, and there are a lot of cool decks you can try outside of the “big three.” There are times where Modern is just a bunch of different combo decks trying to kill each other and disrupt their opponent, but there is plenty of room for fair decks to gain an edge.
We’re not trying to do that today.
Today, we’re killing people on turn one.
Let’s start with the nuts and bolt of the deck.
First off, you can kill your opponent on the first turn with this deck. It might involve two copies of Simian Spirit Guide, a Faithless Looting, a Griselbrand, a Goyro’s Vengeance, and a land that taps for black… but you can do it dammit! Not to mention you still have to hit two copies of Fury of the Hord in the top twenty-one or so cards, but a boy can dream.
And before you get all high-and-mighty about how this deck gets “wrecked” by Splinter Twin, I know exactly how the matchup plays out. I know exactly how good it is for the opponent when half of their combo prevents my entire combo. I know exactly how hard it is to fight through Dispel and Remand while doing so.
But I also know is that Torpor Orb is one hell of a card against them.
Transforming into a slower combo deck against someone with so many ways to disrupt you is a reasonable plan. Boseiju, Who Shelters All works in this deck much better than in my Legacy Sneak and Show deck, which says a lot. I’ve tried playing two copies before, but it hurts more than it helps on occasion. The life loss is tough and you never want to draw the second copy, but the singleton is just bonkers against decks that play counterspells.
The addition of Temples is an experiment to see just how good they are in this style of deck, acting as a dual land that digs for specific combo pieces or extra sources of mana. Alongside Sleight of Hand, Faithless Looting, and Izzet Charm, they give you a lot of ways to power through your deck.
Some people were wondering why Pentad Prism is in the deck, and the answer is both simple and complex. The simple part is that it lets us ramp into Through the Breach easily. The complex part comes with Emrakul as well, but is more important for Goryo’s Vengeance. Since your Emrakul will trigger to shuffle into your graveyard, it can be difficult to have enough mana to cast something like Izzet Charm and Goryo’s Vengeance in the same turn. We don’t have the luxury to leave Emrakul sitting there, meaning we need four total mana to use this combination. This also works with the Flashback on Faithless Looting, doing the same thing.
One of the downsides to playing Pentad Prism is that it puts our mana count up to 29 in the deck when you figure in Simian Spirit Guide. This can mean that we flood out on occasion, but the inclusion of Pentad Prism is one of the things that makes this deck as consistent as it is. You have enough looting-style effects to discard excess mana sources should you need to, but having the five mana to cast Through the Breach or combo with Emrakul and looting outlets is a perfect fit.
There are also draws after sideboarding that don’t feature green mana, and having Pentad Prism can alleviate that pressure in a pinch when you desperately need to cast Abrupt Decay on a Relic of Progenitus, Grafdigger’s Cage, or whatever ails you.
I am not entirely happy with cutting Thoughtseize from the maindeck. It acted as a discard outlet for you to use on yourself when there were no other options while also giving you vital information on how to play around your opponent’s disruption. However, I found myself siding it out in nearly every matchup, as it only shines against dedicated combo or control decks. I don’t particularly want Thoughtseize against Birthing Pod, Affinity, or the majority of the fair decks in the format.
The singleton Lightning Axe is mostly an experiment as well, but I did play it in our Versus Video a few weeks back against BBD and it was quite good. However, I’ve played versions of this deck that included three and four copies of the card, and I absolutely don’t want more than two total in the deck. A discard effect that doesn’t loot for combo pieces is not something I want too many copies of, but giving yourself an out to Scavenging Ooze (or just slowing your opponent down) is solid. Having too many copies of this kind of card is also a liability in any attrition matchup. If you’re getting constantly barraged by discard spells, having discard outlets that don’t dig for combo pieces will leave you with very awkward draws and make their disruption just that much more relevant.
With Modern being such a volatile format full of so many different archetypes, I treat it much the same way I treat Sneak and Show in Legacy. The deck is powerful, proactive, and puts the burden of interaction on the opponent. If they choose to not interact with you, then you are a faster combo deck that can kill most opponents with ease. However, if they have dedicated sideboard hate for your deck and a highly disruptive plan featuring cheap pressure sources, this deck can fall apart.
It is not for the faint of heart.
This is one of the few decks in Modern that you can “goldfish” just to see if you like it or not. I would say that the deck has a reasonable failure rate at any given time, simply because the dig spells we have access to aren’t as powerful as Ponder, Preordain, or Brainstorm, but your nut draws are nearly unbeatable. I haven’t played this deck in many live events since Grand Prix Kansas City last year, but the format has changed considerably with the exit of Deathrite Shaman and I can assure you that is a good thing.
While Splinter Twin continues to be a dominant force in the format, it has a significant number of weaknesses that other decks continue to exploit, putting it into an awkward position regularly. I have played TarmoTwin, U/R Twin, and many other variants, and the deck is only as good as how much your opponent prepares for the matchup. When they have Combust, Spellskite, or a combination of discard alongside disruptive permanents, it becomes impossible to win some matches.
The same is true for this deck, but it is much less known and much stronger against the field.
I would much rather be playing Goryo’s Vengeance against Birthing Pod decks. I would much rather be playing Goryo’s Vengeance against a field that can feature some of the weirdest (and coolest) decks that the format has to offer.
One interesting aspect of the deck is that, aside from Faithless Looting, all of your combo pieces can be played at instant speed. That means you can put Griselbrand into play during your opponent’s combat step to kill their creature then draw into more combo pieces for next turn. You can also play your combo pieces during your opponent’s end step, as both Goryo’s Vengeance and Through the Breach have the clause “at the beginning of the next end step.” This is a handy trick for fighting through counterspells, as they will have to devote their mana on their own turn, leaving you free to untap and combo again on your own turn.
The manabase is probably off by a land or two, but I’m pretty confident that you don’t need access to that many green sources for Abrupt Decay. The games where they have dedicated hate cards will usually go pretty long and you can find your Breeding Pool or Gemstone Mine eventually. My biggest fear is that the scry land or Scars of Mirrodin lands are incorrectly numbered, but I wanted to increase the blue sources in order to cast Sleight of Hand more efficiently. I also see a great tension point between scry lands and Scars of Mirrodin lands, as one promotes speed while the other promotes consistency.
I think there will be many draws where you want to cast Through the Breach but your land will come into play tapped. Given the speed of some decks in the format, this can be a liability, but increasing the consistency of your combo is important.
In my previous article on the deck, I talked about the potential of choosing to draw first. I think that it will be correct in a number of matchups, but it is rarely correct to do in the dark. Against decks with Thoughtseize it is a terrible idea because you will rarely get to use your cleanup step as a discard outlet. You also give them an extra turn to find Scavenging Ooze and have mana up to activate it. There will also be games where you need to cast Through the Breach as soon as possible, and being on the draw with a reasonable number of lands that come into play tapped will make you too slow for my taste.
But against control decks, giving yourself a way to discard your Griselbrand on the first turn is fantastic. When they’re going to try and disrupt your discard outlets via Spell Pierce and the like, gaining an extra card and “abusing” a game mechanic is something you don’t get to do often. I haven’t quite figured out which situations and which matchups where I want to be on the draw, but I know they exist in a much higher number than people are expecting (and used to, for that matter).
If you want to play Modern, you really must learn all the tricks your deck can do. I missed multiple opportunities to win a game against BBD in the video because of my lack of understanding on the finer points with the deck. I attribute much of that to my tunnel vision when playing a combo deck, but also my lack of fundamental knowledge on how games with this deck can play out. Once I fill those holes, I fully expect to pilot this deck to a PTQ win, but it will not be easy.
I’m looking forward to playing Modern this season, and I hope you are too. Seeing the look on the opponent’s face while you kill them on turn one is going to be priceless.