With Grand Prix Charlotte on the horizon, everyone is talking about Modern. Even though I finished 6-2 at the Season Two Invitational in the format, I don’t feel like I’m the guy to be discussing the complexities of that format and will leave that to our more qualified professionals. I’m the Standard guy and played a very successful version of G/R Devotion this past weekend. Today I want to go over the origin story of why many of us ended up playing the deck, and what you need to do if you want to pick up the most powerful green deck in the format.
Reaching the decision to play G/R Devotion didn’t use the same process I normally follow when deciding on which Standard deck to play in a given tournament. Usually I assess the format by figuring out which strategies are trending while also calculating which decks will be under-represented as well as underperforming. After that, I find a card or strategy I think will be best suited for the weekend and build a deck around that skeleton. This time around, I decided to try something a little different.
I finally taught my girlfriend how to play Magic.
I had quite a few weekends at home after Grand Prix Toronto and wanted to finally teach my girlfriend how to play Magic. I first introduced the game to her at the Khans of Tarkir prerelease, where we played Two-Headed Giant together. She had an interest in the game, but was content to let it just be my thing since I was constantly having to prepare for so many important tournaments. She never wanted me to sacrifice an event to teach her the basics, so we just left it on the back burner until things slowed down. Finally we had the time to get her started, but figuring out the deck for her to play was going to be the biggest decision.
One of the most stereotypical decks players give to beginners is the most aggressive Mono-Red deck in the format. I find that incorrect since those decks are often just as complex as the “best” decks in the format, but they don’t give the new players the chance to windmill slam something gigantic. Not only is casting a haymaker fun, but it allows new players to win games without feeling the daunting pressure of maneuvering their way around a crash of Siege Rhinos. In a way, we have all gotten so jaded in our years of grinding tournaments that we don’t remember the cards that got us exited about Magic in the first place. For me, it was this little guy.
Of course this card sucked, but it was so flipping awesome to have in play. It was gigantic and such an ordeal to get into play that I was always excited to finally put it on the table literally like Dr. Boom shows up on the Hearthstone table. Many drinks were spilled when I finally got to ten mana.
Nowadays there are countless awesome creatures to choose from but none are more powerful than Dragonlord Atarka. We all know the stats on this card and what makes her great, but try thinking about it from a new player’s perspective. They might not know exactly why decks are built the way they are, but they for sure will be able to tap seven mana, kill a Siege Rhino, and feel good about the experience. I sleeved her up Magnus Lantto’s MOCS-winning decklist and started teaching her the basics.
Over the course of two weeks, she played in a SCG Game Night and two FNMs. In the meantime we played some Daily Events on Magic Online together so I could show her things she was missing at the live events. Throughout the two weeks, she was learning how to play G/R Devotion, but I was also smashing dailies on Magic Online. Oddly enough my results with G/R Devotion were better than anything else I was testing with, and I soon realized that this might be the best deck in the format for the Invitational. I started ignoring the other decks in the field and spent my time solely on my girlfriend’s deck. She didn’t have an issue with this since this was the first time ever that she could watch me play Magic Online and know what in the hell was going on.
I ended up not changing a card for a week. I even played the same list in the Standard Super League that I did in the Invitational. The deck was great. It put Chris VanMeter in the Top Eight of the Invitational and crowned Chris Fennell as the TCG 50k Champion. It’s crazy to think that teaching my girlfriend how to play Magic would have such a huge impact on the big tournaments over the weekend.
So that might be the origin story of me playing G/R Devotion, but that doesn’t help with where the deck is positioned moving forward. It currently has the largest target on its back and will most certainly be the cause for some major changes in Standard. Before we get into what the format might look like, we need to understand what would be good in a Devotion-based metagame.
Many of these cards have been pushed out of the metagame for various reasons. Some still see play, but not at the numbers that would force someone to re-evaluate their decision to pick up Devotion.
Before you go and do something drastic, it’s important to remember that metagames move slowly. Jeskai Tokens is a great deck to combat Devotion-based decks since they have the ability to simply control the game with countermagic, but also get to lean on Goblin Rabblemaster for free wins. Nothing is scarier for a Devotion player than a Goblin Rabblemaster that’s backed up by removal spells and countermagic. The problem with this deck choice is that Jeskai in any form is inherently weak to Abzan-based strategies, which are unwavering in this metagame.
Esper Dragons and U/B Control are both great decks to combat G/R Devotion, but they always seem to have a difficult time finding their way to the finish line against the rest of the field. It’s true that players like Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa and Alexander Hayne have consistently done well with these controlling strategies, but we all know the “ham sandwich” argument. Just because the best in the biz can win with a deck does not mean it will be the same for everyone.
Heroic is another deck that is perfectly set up to beat G/R Devotion, but the rest of the field can be extremely harsh for the linear strategy. In all honestly, G/R Devotion has the ability to stay top dog in the format since most of the decks capable of defeating it have such a difficult time against the rest of the field. It will take the entire format allocating slots in the maindeck before they start to be well-positioned in the matchup. Cards like Ultimate Price will need to slowly beat out other two mana-removal spells in the format before things start to shift against us.
What does this mean for G/R Devotion? Well for starters, it is still probably a decent choice. Even though players out there like me will most likely try to prey on those picking up the deck, that doesn’t mean the road they travel won’t be paved with just as much hate. Being able to defeat both Devotion and Abzan is no easy task. There might possibly be a blue-based control deck out there capable of this feat, but I’m not the person to find it. I will most likely continue slinging Dragonlord Atarkas or possibly go back to the Sandsteppe Citadel for guidance. Regardless, G/R Devotion is a great choice and I want to walk you through everything needed to give it a whirl.
- 1 Hornet Queen
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 3 Polukranos, World Eater
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 3 Genesis Hydra
- 4 Rattleclaw Mystic
- 4 Whisperwood Elemental
- 3 Dragonlord Atarka
- 3 Deathmist Raptor
I’ve made a few small changes since the Invitational given the fact that the metagame will have shifted a little too. For starters, Ali Antrazi debuted his take of Naya Dragons this weekend. Not only will we have to deal with a flurry of Atarkas and Dromokas, but the deck’s Valorous Stances and Hidden Dragonslayers keep me from wanting to play more than one Arbor Colossus to Genesis Hydra into. That means the Plummet numbers ironically go up.
The fourth Xenagos, the Reveler made its way into the deck due to how prevalent the mirror has already become. Xenagos is easily the most important card in the early game, and can often times seal our victory by creating the first Dragonlord Atarka. Nothing is better in the mirror match than a turn-three Xenagos, the Reveler on the play.
The second Ugin, the Spirit Dragon has found a home in the sideboard due to my prediction that Abzan Aggro will become more popular since it has the best matchup against G/R Devotion of any Abzan variant. Just an aggressive curve backed up by a furry of spot removal can keep G/R Devotion from ever getting off the ground. Ugin can often be the only card capable of stabilizing against Abzan Aggro, yet finding it with Genesis Hydra is too expensive and slow for Devotion when drawing first.
VS G/R Devotion
What is there to be said about the mirror? It is fast and volatile and usually the player who goes first wins. The only times I have seen the player on the draw win is when the player going first didn’t have enough discipline to mulligan or the player on the draw had an absurdly explosive opening. Regardless, the mirror comes down to one simple task: resolving Dragonlord Atarka.
There are often trumps to Dragonlord Atarka given the board state, but rarely does a turn-four 8/8 flier not win the game. When both players begin to assemble a huge board state, the game devolves into who can monstrous the first Polukranos, World Eater for roughly 20. Not having access to Voyaging Satyr makes it much more difficult to destroy an entire board, but Rattleclaw Mystic has proven to help in consistently resolving Dragonlord Atarka on turn four meriting its position.
In regards to how to sideboard, the mirror match is one that I have yet to master given the volatility of the matchup and my so-far limited testing. I don’t want to give you a concrete sideboard guide, but will point out things I have witnessed in my matches.
- Deathmist Raptor does a good job at attacking Xenagos on the draw, but is useless on the play.
- Courser of Kruphix often is too slow on the play or draw. It often just gets in the way.
- Nissa, Worldwaker can win games all by herself on the play. I’m not confident of her abilities on the draw.
- Polukranos is a decent three-drop on the play since it threatens Xenagos, the Reveler, but often is too slow as the only threat on the draw. I would mulligan a hand that plans on playing this card on turn three on the draw.
- Keep any hand that can cast Xenagos, the Reveler on turn three and cross your fingers.
VS Azban Aggro
Game one is all about positioning. They theoretically will have limited removal so they will try to make it count. This is why you want to try to play your cards in an order that forces them to answer something as opposed to letting them resolve more threats. For example, it is much more effective to play Deathmist Raptor over Courser of Kruphix if all they have to do is attack to get past the 2/4 body. It is crucial that they do not swarm you with too many creatures before you start to take over the game with a high volume of creatures.
It is also crucial to not play Whisperwood Elemental into open mana if you can help it. I will oftentimes play a Genesis Hydra for 3 or 4 over casting the mythic rare so that I may guarantee a manifest later in the game. These small amounts of value may help in the later turns when it becomes more and more difficult for them to push damage through.
I always have a difficult time taking out every Courser of Kruphix since Dromoka’s Command numbers have been dwindling. That said, Courser of Kruphix isn’t the greatest in this matchup, but it can often help prevent clunky draws in the midgame.
Hornet Nest isn’t something that will ever win the game. It doesn’t just stop their creatures from ever attacking, allowing you to do whatever you want. It just forces them to take a turn off from playing their creatures to deal with this one. This is what you want it for. Hornet Nest allows you to guarantee either that you will not be taking damage that turn or that they won’t be playing more creatures. It’s easily worth the investment since preventing them from having a large board position is what you need in the midgame.
VS Esper Dragons
This matchup was my biggest fear going into the Invitational. I was testing Adrian Sullivan’s U/B Control deck for some time and knew that Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver and counterspells were my biggest weakness. That said, I was surprised when I actually got to play against the deck in a tournament setting. The matchup really isn’t that bad as long as you know what you’re doing. You don’t have to overcommit to the board and sequencing your spells isn’t that difficult now that we have access to Deathmist Raptor. By simply testing the waters with this 3/3, you can either get a reasonable army started or exhaust their resources against recurring threats. This little guy actually swings the matchup in your favor so long as you actually draw them.
Do not be afraid to play a slower game with this deck when you get the opportunity. Usually this will involve a Courser of Kruphix in play generating card advantage while they refuse to kill something during combat due to the threat of you resolving a post-combat Xenagos, the Reveler or Whisperwood Elemental. This doesn’t mean you can just sit around all game, but taking your time will allow your Genesis Hydras to be more potent in the late game since your opponent had to wait longer to cast Dig Through Time and get their velocity started.
VS Abzan Control
This matchup plays out much like Abzan Aggro, except for the fact that they are trying to contain you for a longer period of time. Obviously any Abzan deck can get under you with a crash of Siege Rhinos, but they will more often be trying to kill the important cards you draw and lean on Elspeth, Sun’s Champion to finish the job. This means that holding a Dragonlord Atarka for the powerful planeswalker will often be correct.
This is a matchup that I used to bring in Ugin against, but I’ve been burned on that far too many times now to still consider it a good plan. The true way to win this matchup is to just not fall too far behind and find streams of card advantage. It’s a difficult matchup and one I need more testing to feel confident in giving you the full grasp on.
VS Atarka Red
Oddly enough, this matchup has gotten more difficult since Sarkhan saved Ugin’s life. Atarka’s Command is above and beyond the easiest way for the warrens to steal games from Devotion. Be careful when facing this matchup since this deck can drop you from 18 all the way down to 5 without breaking a sweat. This one can play out closer to a race than the usual aggro versus control battle that it once was.
I’ve began to skimp on slots for this matchup given the deck’s drop in popularity, but it is still prevalent enough to warrant the slots. Even though Nylea’s Disciple is the most potent card to sideboard in the matchup, Atarka’s Command can end our shenanigans by doing its best Skullcrack impression. Seriously, this matchup has only gotten worse than what it once was. Take Atarka Red seriously when playing G/R Devotion.
That’s all I have for this week. I hope you guys enjoyed the origin story of how I came around to play G/R Devotion in the Invitational. This weekend is Grand Prix Charlotte and I hope you are in attendance. If not, Cedric Phillips and Patrick Sullivan will be in good spirits (as long as the Cavs win) while they bring you fifteen rounds of Swiss followed by three rounds of Top Eight action. I sure hope I find myself in the thick of it since I am just a few Pro Points away from locking up my slot at Worlds. The goal for the weekend is three points, but I wouldn’t complain if I find myself playing single elimination rounds deep into Sunday.
See you this weekend!