Give Me Balti-More More More!

Who wants more new Standard? Todd does! In this article, he shows his plan for #SCGBALT and gives a few pointers to those who may want to adjust their strategies instead of adopt his!

With the Open Series coming to Baltimore this weekend, I have my work cut out for me. The new Core Set, Magic 2015, looks to make some waves for the current Standard format but not in the way you might think. Most of the time when a new set is released, it brings a new deck or new idea along with it. But this time around, much like the last few sets, I see weapons for many existing archetypes to utilize.

I’ve talked about the problem with Thoughtseize before, and how it punishes decks relying on synergy. But Thoughtseize isn’t the only problem, and isn’t the only card that punishes people for trying to be too cute. Standard is stocked with oppressive spells that are hard for rogue decks to overcome. The list is long, but here are the main offenders.

The “big three” decks are here to stay, and two of them only got better with the release of M15. Can you guess which deck got left out?

Today we’re preparing for Baltimore in the best way I know how. I’m going to go over two of the best “stock decks” for the tournament, as well as what deck I’m going to play. I think it is particularly strong, as it got a few new weapons from M15 to make it more consistent.

The Green Machine


With the addition of Nissa, Worldwaker and Chord of Calling, Mono-Green Devotion got a lot of help. I know this list isn’t much different than the one I posted a few weeks ago, but that’s mostly because the games I got in with the deck made it seem like it was absurdly good. Of course, I wasn’t playing against Thoughtseize or Supreme Verdict which are the true tests of the format.

I can’t express how powerful Nissa, Worldwaker can be. There are few planeswalkers that, when they come into play, I don’t know which ability to use. Sometimes making your Polukranos go monstrous for a bit more damage is correct. Sometimes making a 4/4 indestructible Darksteel Citadel is a bit better. Regardless, both of her abilities are strong, and she can put a lot of pressure on any opponent that isn’t aggressively interacting with you.

In a vacuum, this is probably the most powerful Standard deck. Hell, I played a 13/13 Genesis Hydra on Turn 4 against BBD last week in our VS Video. When your opponent doesn’t have the right tools to deal with what you’re trying to do, you will run all over them. But even when they are disrupting you, there are only a few specific cards you actually care about. Depending on the matchup, you could easily overwhelm their board, and no amount of spot removal is going to save them from all of the threats you’re producing.

I will say that I very much liked Sam Black’s G/B Chord of Calling deck from his article last week. I think the addition of Doomwake Giant and Shadowborn Demon are interesting, and having the Eidolon of Blossoms mini-package is strong against decks with a lot of removal, but he was not maximizing its effectiveness, and that isn’t something I can really get behind. I see Eidolon of Blossoms as an engine and one that I want to keep running constantly. I’m not in the market to play Shaman of Spring even if it does have one more point of devotion.

I am excited to try out Phytotitan, both against U/W Control and Black Devotion. Having a threat that can survive a Supreme Verdict is nice, but also a way to continually pressure Black Devotion through all of their removal spells is sweet. I’m going to be looking at potentially putting him into play via Chord of Calling, though it might end up just being a worse version of Hornet Queen.

The logic behind many of the card choices and numbers seems to make sense. Having fewer copies of Garruk in favor of Nissa means that your curve will be lower. You’ll be much more aggressive while still putting a planeswalker on the field that they have to deal with. Garruk also gets much worse when you are replacing creatures with Chord of Calling. It is still nice to have a few when you need a refuel, but you will miss on Garruk’s +1 or hit irrelevant creatures a significant portion of the time. This is not even mentioning the fact that you are playing four copies of Polukranos, meaning you could very easily draw redundant copies that have little effect on the game.

But four copies of Polukranos is a necessity. You need a way to consistently and aggressively interact with Master of Waves, not to mention all of the random creature-based decks running around. Alongside Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, Polukranos will regularly wipe their entire team off the board. I’ve thought about trimming down some since you have Chord of Calling, but I would love to cast Polukranos on Turn 3 every single game in every single matchup. And if they kill it, I want a backup.

Two copies of Genesis Hydra might be aggressive. The card is great when you’re flooding out, but is one of the best cards you can have alongside Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. We can only play so many copies of Polukranos after all. Having mana sinks like Mistcutter Hydra, Genesis Hydra, and Polukranos is important when your deck can generate so much mana, and provides a level of consistency for doing powerful things to punish your opponent when they don’t have the right answers. I know that Genesis Hydra can be a bust sometimes, but even making a 3/3 or 4/4 Genesis Hydra and giving yourself another mana dork or Courser of Kruphix isn’t bad at all!

The sideboard contains one of my favorite sideboard cards of all time: Setessan Tactics. This card is just an absurd blowout against other creature-based strategies, and especially so if they are heavily based in devotion. For the most part, your creatures should be around the same size or bigger than their creatures, so the +1/+1 will usually keep all of your creatures that fight alive while sending all of theirs to the bin. This is one of the easiest ways for green decks to combat Master of Waves, which was traditionally a huge problem outside of drawing Polukranos. The fact that you can generate so much mana means that you’ll likely be able to kill nearly every creature they have in play with a single copy of Setessan Tactics.

The rest of the deck is pretty self-explanatory. Chord of Calling gives you incentive to play singleton hosers in the maindeck, as well as powerful top-end threats like Arbor Colossus and Hornet Queen, though you don’t have to flood your deck with them. Chord of Calling gives us access to more virtual copies of every card in our deck, which means we can lower our curve significantly by reducing the total number of high-casting cost threats. At one point I was playing three copies of Sylvan Primordial in Green Devotion, and I’m very glad that is no longer the case. You also get more sideboard options when you start to maindeck specific bullets like Nylea’s Disciple and Reclamation Sage. While these cards are sometimes a little awkward to draw in your opener, there are a lot of situations where you want access to a singleton in your maindeck as Chord of Calling gives you a virtual five copies.

Infernal Contract

With M15 giving us access to a few new goodies for Black Devotion, I figured I’d take some time to go over them, as you will undoubtedly play against Black Devotion in the coming weeks. There are three new additions to the deck which will have a significant impact on how a lot of games play out.

Giving Black Devotion access to Sign in Blood is not something a lot of people are talking about, but it will be a change that gives it a lot more velocity. When you’re playing with cards that reward you for lowering your curve (Pack Rat), having access to a two-mana Divination is patently absurd. Read the Bones might seem like a similar card, but you have no idea how much one mana matters in a lot of scenarios. The turns where you can cast Sign in Blood alongside a removal spell are going to be so much better than the turns where you cast Read the Bones and do absolutely nothing else. I will admit that scry is a powerful mechanic, but I would much rather pay less mana to get a very similar effect.

Sign in Blood also has the potential to just kill your opponent, given that they are at two life. With Pack Rat, Mutavault, Lifebane Zombie, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, and even Desecration Demon, you will be putting a reasonable amount of pressure on your opponent. Imagine the look on their face when they think it is safe to go to two life from an attack only to have everything blow up in their face!

And now that we have access to Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, the pressure that Mutavault puts on the manabase will be significantly reduced. There were a lot of games where you would only be able to cast a single spell per turn thanks to a Mutavault (or two). And when the deck plays Nightveil Specter…don’t get me started! But I don’t think this is Nightveil Specter’s time to shine. The deck is getting much more aggressive now that our mana is a bit better. We don’t want Temple of This or Temple of That to scry because Sign in Blood does that type of heavy lifting for us. We want to make sure we drop all of our threats and hit all of our spells on curve. Playing any number of temples will hinder us from that goal.

Stain the Mind is also a powerful sideboard option that gives the black decks that don’t want to splash a color an important tool for fighting Sphinx’s Revelation. I can’t tell you how easy it is to destroy your opponent’s entire hand with Thoughtseize and Duress only to have them peel a Sphinx’s Revelation and get themselves back in the game. It can be demoralizing. Stain the Mind shuts down this avenue completely, though I don’t foresee myself using the convoke too much on the card. Most of the time, if I have a creature in play, I want it to be attacking, but it is a nice backup option.

Without further ado, the most hated deck in Standard for the next few months.

You love it. You hate it. You love to hate it. It is here to stay, and it is only getting better. In just a few weeks time, Pro Tour Magic 2015 is coming to Portland, and you can bet your bottom dollar that Black Devotion is showing up in force. It will be interesting to see how everyone adapts to this deck getting even better than it was before.


Blue Sky

But blue decks got a bit of help too, though you may not have been able to figure it out just yet. There is one card, and one card alone, that will significantly change how the deck plays in a number of matchups. And I’m fairly certain you’ve dismissed this card before giving it a chance.

Let me begin by saying that this is not your average version of Jace. Normally, Jace draws cards. He is known for forcing your opponent to interact with him lest they be buried in card advantage, all the while you are free to use your mana to prevent them from killing it. These Blue Devotion decks are known for being able to play solid defense as well as offense, making planeswalkers significant threats at most points of the game. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a great asset to really protect, as drawing cards in this kind of a deck isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I mean, how many extra copies of Judge’s Familiar can you draw before it actually helps you win the game?

But this Jace is a much different animal. This is an aggressive Jace, and one that will allow you to play hard on offense when necessary, or just keep your opponent on the back foot.

I get your arguments against Jace. This one does look mediocre by comparison to other versions, but that’s because this is probably the first iteration of Jace that you aren’t supposed to build your deck around. Instead, this Jace is a compliment to an existing strategy and a perfect complement at that. Jace, the Living Guildpact is a role player instead of a game changer, and that is difficult for many people to swallow. He isn’t flashy, but he gets the job done.

Blue Devotion, at its heart, is a tempo deck. There are awkward draws at times that keep you off curve, but you have a lot of creatures at your disposal that can turn the tide of the game. This is one of the first aggressive decks in history that played defense almost as well as it played offense, and nearly every creature in the deck adds to this element. Even Thassa, one of the most aggressive gods, can hold off an entire army because she is indestructible, all while digging for a Master of Waves to dig you out of the game. And while you are playing such a strong defensive game, you can turn the tide quickly.

Thassa being able to make herself or other creatures unblockable will end games fast. When your opponent is also dealing themselves damage with their manabase or Thoughtseizes, and you’re continually pecking at them in the air with your birds, finding the right turn to get aggressive is pretty simple.

Jace, the Living Guildpact is an avatar for everything this deck is trying to do. Increasing card quality? Check. Bouncing creatures so that you can attack or play defense? Check. I understand that the new Jace isn’t flashy or cool or everything you ever dreamed of, but did you really want them to print another Jace, the Mind Sculptor? I’m actually pretty happy that I don’t have to deal with another Jace, Architect of Thought for the next two years. Instead, we get a Jace that can’t be built around and actually plays fair for once.

Don’t misunderstand me. The new Jace is very good, and you would be wise to understand exactly what it means when he hits play. You will begin to fall behind quickly, and if the person piloting that Jace knows what they’re doing, they will know exactly how and when to protect it so that it can bounce something again in a few turns all while making sure you’re able to draw the best card out of the top two.

I will say that I’m actually looking forward to playing Standard this weekend in Baltimore. It has been a while since I’ve felt the desire to play something besides Thoughtseize, Master of Waves, or Sphinx’s Revelation. After playing just a few games with Nissa Green, I was sold. The deck feels much stronger than older versions of Green Devotion, and getting to play with my boo is just icing on the cake.

Me and Nissa…we go way back. I just wish I had Eldrazi Monument this time around. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to beat’em the old fashioned way.