What is devotion? When one thinks of devotion, words like loyalty, faithfulness, and allegiance come to mind; a trusted friend, a longtime lover, a close family member—one who’s been with your through thick and thin.
Another definition is a keyword ability that counts the number of colored mana symbols you have in play for some sort of effect.
While both were major parts of my story at the StarCityGames.com Invitational in Las Vegas two weekends ago, today we will be focusing on the latter:
- 4 Ash Zealot
- 4 Frostburn Weird
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Boros Reckoner
- 2 Mindsparker
- 2 Purphoros, God of the Forge
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 2 Fanatic of Mogis
I had played U/W Control in my last few events (and my last few articles), but I really wasn’t that happy with it. In some ways it was becoming a victim of its own success, as by doing so well in the previous few weeks it was sure to have a target on its head, but also the latest innovation of Elixir of Immortality was just not jiving with me. I was content to play it, but I was looking for another answer if possible—preferably one with an excellent matchup against U/W and Esper Control since I imagined both would be major players at the Invitational.
It would turn out the answer was right in front of me. My buddy Dan Jessup had been rocking an earlier version of the deck for a while and claimed it had a very good matchup versus the decks I wanted to beat. Red Devotion decks had been around since the Pro Tour but often came in two varieties:
The green splash was Team CFB’s deck of choice for the Pro Tour, but despite the power of the planeswalkers, the deck had zero good answers to Master of Waves or Thassa, God of the Sea. This was a big problem, and the deck saw little success.
The other and more popular splash was white primarily for Chained to the Rocks, which is the answer Master of Waves and Thassa call for. However, it lacked the late-game power the planeswalkers provided and was much weaker to Supreme Verdict. It was forced into a more aggressive stance and relied pretty heavily on good hands topped off with Fanatic of Mogis.
Putting both splashes together solved almost all of these problems. The planeswalker late game was left intact, and the deck excelled at providing a wide variety of hard-to-answer threats. There was also the huge benefit of being able to play all eight scry lands; the deck has no turn 1 plays and wants to stop at five lands (sometimes less when you have an active Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx). The scry lands are fantastic at smoothing out your draws and also have the bonus of helping to set up Domri Rade and Chandra Pyromancer flips. While having only eight sources of each color is a little light, you only have a few off-color cards and have other ways to help you find them; Burning-Tree Emissary can help you cast Domri Rade, while you can Nykthos for white when you have Boros Reckoner out.
These cards form the core of the deck and for the most part are simply the best possible creatures at each cost with the most possible mana symbols. What is excellent is that they do a good job at providing a good source of early pressure as well as powering up your devotion for later. Sometimes your opponent will have to Dentition Sphere an Ash Zealot just to stay alive, which will clear the way for your more powerful spells. These cards are almost non-negotiable.
This was the most contested card while we were testing and went back and forth between zero and four copies. The power level of the card in your good draws is undeniable, as it will often deal upward of eight damage. The problem is when you are not under ideal circumstances the card has vastly diminishing returns. Each one does not make the next one better, and if your opponent has dealt with some of your threats already, it is very underwhelming. It is at its best against other non-interactive decks, but even then our deck has more of a late game with our planeswalkers so the big volatile burst is not always necessary. We decided on two because it is still a very powerful effect to have available, but I’m honestly not sure what the proper number is.
When we were deciding if we wanted to cut some Fanatic of Mogis, what I really wanted was another three-drop to help us move to the midgame and up our devotion. Chandra’s Phoenix was considered, but Last Breath had been a very popular removal spell of late. Enter Mindsparker. We were already pegging U/W Control to be one of the biggest decks, and it not only does do a lot of incidental damage to them but also dodges Last Breath, attacks through Nightveil Specter and other blockers, and is a great blocker itself—nothing amazingly groundbreaking but a solid role player.
Purphoros, God of the Forge is probably the most awkward card in the deck. When he is actually in play, he is very good, but the issue of actually getting him into play is the problem. His triggered ability makes you want to play him before you play your other creatures, but the fact that if you don’t play your other creatures first he won’t actually do anything the first turn you play him makes him very hard to cast sometimes. He does fit well in the theme of difficult-to-answer threats, but his best asset is costing four for your best opening draw of turn 2 creature, turn 3 Burning-Tree Emissary into Nykthos, Shrine to Nix, which gives you four mana on turn 3. This card is similar to Fanatic of Mogis in that it is conditionally powerful but extremely volatile.
This card constantly overperformed. It provides hard-to-remove devotion and a never-ending stream of threats for when you are a bit flooded or have Nykthos going. The only issue is that it also has diminishing returns; it is possible you only want one.
Now we come to the true power of the deck. While your opponent is trying to deal with your creatures, you get to attack them on a totally different angle. We are at a bare minimum for Domri at 26 creatures, but we also make excellent use of the fight ability with Boros Reckoner; Purphoros, God of the Forge; and Stormbreath Dragon.
The Chandra, Pyromaster slot was Xenagos, the Reveler for a while, but aside from how much Xenagos underperformed in some matchups, Chandra just makes the deck smoother. Again, we come to our nut draw of turn 2 guy, turn 3 Burning-Tree Emissary into Nykthos, which gives you four mana on turn 3; Chandra, Pyromaster is an ideal play in this scenario, as it adds two to your devotion, gives you a never-ending stream of threats, and can pick off small creatures and blockers with her underrated first ability.
We already talked about Chained to the Rocks a bit, but to reiterate Chained to the Rocks is simply one of the most efficient removal spells in the format. Aside from being one of the few decks that can actually cast it, it also answers many of the difficult-to-answer cards for our deck like Master of Waves; Thassa, God of the Sea; and Desecration Demon.
There are definitely a few flexible slots in the maindeck, but overall I was very happy with it. A lot of the deck’s allure however resides in the sideboard:
In the matchups you want them, your extra planeswalkers are absolutely amazing. Xenagos provides you with another hard-to-answer threat, and it’s not uncommon to build a board of multiple creatures and planeswalkers that is far too much for your opponent to overcome.
While Assemble the Legion is good versus most control decks, you only really want it versus Mono-Black Devotion since they have no way to remove it at all. Against control decks with Jace, Architect of Thought and Detention Sphere, it’s not worth it to bring it in.
Wear // Tear giving you such a clean answer to both Detention Sphere and Pithing Needle is fantastic in your control matchups. While it can kill Underworld Connections, that’s not usually the battle you want to fight against Mono-Black Devotion, and you should only bring it in if they have Pithing Needle.
This is probably the best Mizzium Mortars deck I’ve ever played because overloading it is very easy with Nykthos.
Another fantastic card against the blue-based control decks, Mistcutter is also good versus Mono-Blue Devotion and a great mana sink for your Nykthos.
Aside from my bye, I went 6-1 with the deck in the Invitational, losing only to the pseudo-mirror against a deck only splashing white. I beat three Mono-Black Devotion decks—one splashing green and one splashing white—an Esper Control deck, a U/W Control deck, and a Mono=Blue Devotion deck. I ended up playing against pretty much the exact field I expected, and I was very happy with the deck. The deck has very powerful draws but also has a lot of resilience in its noncreature permanents.
However, one major concern is that this deck was very focused for that particular field. Last weekend I played in a local IQ to scrounge up some more Open Points and quickly wished that I had played U/W Control instead. The field at an IQ has more in common with an FNM than a high-level event, and there was a huge variety of decks that might not be the best choices for a big event but are simply decks that people like to play. I lost to a Mono-Green Devotion deck and a Mono-White Devotion deck splashing red, and while neither deck is a very good metagame choice at the moment, they were both difficult matchups.
This is a deck designed to beat up on the top decks in the format, and that is something you need to consider before bringing it to an event. While the deck is very good versus any Sphinx’s Revelation based control deck or Mono-Black Devotion deck and has solid game against Mono-Blue Devotion and white-based aggressive decks, the deck is weak to other devotion decks that are more devoted to devotion and fast Mono-Red Aggro decks.
As far as considerations for the future, as I alluded to I’m not completely sure on the numbers for Purphoros, God of the Forge; Hammer of Purphoros; and Fanatic of Mogis, but they might also just change as the format changes. Another thing to consider is the mana base. 24 lands is a tiny bit light, but in a deck like this with the full eight scry lands, I don’t mind being a bit risky. If you were to add a land, I think a Temple Garden would be the best choice to give you one more source of each splash color while still casting Boros Reckoner and Burning-Tree Emissary.
You’re probably asking yourself, "Gee, Jim did really well in Standard, so why didn’t I see him in the Top 8 of the Invitational? Or even the Top 32?"
Unfortunately devotion is not just a mechanic, and I followed it too far.
Tune in next week for . . .
Funeral For A Friend.