Going into Grand Prix San Diego, I tried nearly every available deck in Standard looking for a better alternative to my backup plan – G/R Devotion. The list of decks I tried was rather extensive, and included:
(Clearly I should have tried U/R Mill.)
While some decks showed promise, nothing exactly wowed me. The night before the tournament, I went on kind of a hot streak, winning all my matches with G/W Constellation and Mono-Blue Devotion. The Master of Waves deck, while potentially great for the field, needed lots of work and I knew it. I’m basically done with trying out new decks in a tournament setting. If I want to win, I need to give myself the best opportunities to do so, and that means not playing brews. Sorry, Mono-Blue Devotion fans. Some other time perhaps.
So it came down to the decision of G/W Constellation VS G/R Devotion. In my spare time, I was working on the new Devotion list, and Gather Courage popped into my mind as an elegant answer to Searing Blood. The last, and possibly most important, piece of the puzzle came from David Ochoa.
Ugin was perfect. I played some Ugins at the Season Two Invitational, but they weren’t great there. Thankfully, the format shifts and certain cards end up becoming good again. There are weirdo decks out there that I seem to attract in tournaments, such as Heroic and G/W Constellation. It also helped that Ugin was the trump against the G/W Aggro (aka Kibler) deck. With all my potential problems solved, I happily registered the G/R Devotion deck and went to sleep. Little did I know that the deck would end up being even better than I expected.
I believe in G/R Devotion and this is the best damn G/R Devotion list you will ever see in your life. If I could run the tournament back, I would only change a single card.
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Polukranos, World Eater
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 3 Genesis Hydra
- 1 Reclamation Sage
- 4 Rattleclaw Mystic
- 4 Whisperwood Elemental
- 4 Dragonlord Atarka
At Pro Tour Magic Origins, we expected a heavy control element due to how good Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is. As a result, we spent a large portion of our sideboard on a plan that was incredibly potent against control. Thankfully, the plan also worked superbly against any attrition-based matchup, so it wasn’t like we had fifteen dead cards, but it was pretty close. The Trail of Mystery plan was also excellent against any deck with Disfainful Stroke, so we had an easy time with decks like Abzan and Jeskai.
Still, it required too many slots for too little payoff. With new targets out there, I reworked the sideboard from the ground up. During the tournament, there were exactly zero opponents I sat down across from and didn’t think I had a good chance of beating.
In the end, I lost playing for Top Eight, which is, again, a huge success. It’s been a long time since I was even in contention going into the later rounds. Now, two weeks in a row, I made deep runs and while they didn’t exactly pan out, it’s certainly progress. I think I’m playing better than I ever have. I’ve been fearless with my mulligans and with my in-game decisions, which confused Paulo who was doing coverage. In a ton of matchups, I sideboarded into a leaner deck that was capable of racing and it worked out well.
In the tournament, I faced:
Round 1: *bye*
Round 2: *bye*
Round 3: Mono-Red Aggro (2-0)
Round 4: Mono-White Devotion (2-0)
Round 5: G/W Aggro(2-1)
Round 6: Abzan Control? (2-0)
Round 7: U/W Control (2-1)
Round 8: Abzan Aggro (1-2)
Round 9: Abzan Rally (2-0)
Round 10: U/R Thopters (0-2
Round 11: Abzan Control (2-0)
Round 12: Bant Heroic (2-1)
Round 13: U/R Thopters (2-0)
Round 14: Jeskai Tokens/Control (2-0)
Round 15: Abzan Constellation (1-2)
My 12-3 finish was good enough for 16th place. I won the tiebreaker battle for an extra $50 this time, although clearly I would have preferred that to happen at the Pro Tour instead. I’ll still take it though! Losing playing for Top Eight is kind of a dagger, but, similar to last week, it shows improvement and eventually I’ll end up on the good side of variance. Making Top Eight of a Grand Prix is hard though!
In Game three against Abzan Aggro, I mulliganned a hand on the play that is bad against their normal draw, but likely would have worked out against his slower, more controlling draw. My draw of mana and a Roast could not compete with Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. Against U/R Thopters, my deck simply didn’t cooperate. The fail rate with G/R Devotion is a factor that leads to many people refusing to play the deck, but it’s very unlikely to happen twice in the same match.
Playing for Top Eight came down to a single game and I couldn’t have been excited. My opponent appeared to be a little nervous, and he even forgot to play a land after his turn-two Thoughtseize. Unfortunately, the match was anticlimactic as I mulliganned and didn’t cast many spells.
Here’s how the matchups played out and how I sideboarded:
VS Abzan Control
On the play – Out:
On the draw – Out:
The goal here is to put a bunch of permanents onto the battlefield while not letting them make any good exchanges. If you already have a threat or two on the battlefield by the time they can cast Hero’s Downfall, you are doing it right. If they are able to stunt your development with an Ultimate Price and Languish, you need to turtle up and get ready to play a longer game. Xenagos, the Reveler, Dragonlord Atarka, and Genesis Hydra are your best cards here simply because you can use them to put multiple things on the battlefield on the same turn or remove one of their threats. Basically, you’re trying to overload their mana.
On the play your Xenagos, the Reveler will basically go uncontested, but on the draw, it might be staring down a Siege Rhino. In that case, you’re going to want the extra Roasts to take that pressure off and allow Xenagos to do his thing. On the play, Nissa, Worldwaker can function very similarly to Xenagos, but suffers from some issues when you’re on the draw.
The games can go kind of long, at which point you need to prioritize getting those two-for-ones with Dragonlord Atarka and Genesis Hydra. The main use for Crater’s Claws is taking out a rampaging Siege Rhino or Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, but don’t be afraid to use it on a Courser of Kruphix if it looks like the game is going long. You can also sandbag it in an attempt to deal them the finishing blow. Either way, you’re going to need to know what direction the game is game is going in.
VS U/R Thopters
At the Pro Tour we thought this matchup might be bad, but most of us were on the tail end of variance. When they are attacking you with a 5/5 flier on turn two, it’s going to be impossible to win unless you have a removal spell. If they don’t the Ornithopter plus Ensoul Artifact combo early you are a huge favorite, especially with all the new sideboard hate.
The ground tends to get locked up naturally while they try to peck away at you with fliers. Whisperwood Elemental is completely unnecessary since it rarely attacks or blocks, and Xenagos, the Reveler will often just get attacked in the air. Granted, at the Pro Tour, our plan against them involved using Xenagos as a Fog, but we no longer need that considering how much sideboard hate we have now.
Roast might seem a little odd, but it’s necessary for slowing them down early and getting rid of annoying Phyrexian Revokers on your mana creatures. Nylea’s Disciple isn’t great, but there are times when you only need one turn to get fully stabilized or you’re going to win eventually but need to fade a Shrapnel Blast. Because of that, I want a couple to lock the game up, but you don’t want to draw multiples.
The games are relatively quick and they rarely attack you on the ground, so Courser of Kruphix is an easy shave. They are also killing you in big chunks, so gaining a life here or there isn’t going to save you.
VS Mono-Red Aggro
I really enjoy the games against Mono-Red Aggro. It’s a constant struggle to develop your mana and start casting big things that will help you stabilize. Gather Courage, effectively a zero-mana spell, will often be a Time Walk. If you get to untap with a mana creature, it will be difficult for you to lose.
Since they’re going to be loading up on removal and trying to keep you off mana, having removal of your own can be valuable. “Kill your creature, hit you for four” is way harder to beat than “Kill your creature, go.” Basically, if you’re able to remove their pressure they won’t be able to put a significant enough clock on you to make their mana-denial plan work.
The Nylea’s Disciples are actually hit or miss. Either you get to start casting your big spells or you lose. If you do get to stabilize, you have to close the door before they topdeck enough burn to finish you. In those scenarios, Nylea’s Disciple (or a large Genesis Hydra to find one) locks the game up. Before that, Nylea’s Disciple might be responsible for giving you an extra draw step or two but it doesn’t do much against an active Monastery Swiftspear or Goblin Heelcutter.
VS G/W Aggro
Siding out Courser of Kruphix may make sense since they have Dromoka’s Command, but Kibler advocated shaving on them because of how ineffective they are. Their creatures are so small that it’s rare that they are able to get a two-for-one with it. They should focus on containing your big plays, not attempting to stifle your mana development.
The Reclamation Sages may seem out of place, but Boon Satyr on a Den Protector is one of the few ways they can beat you. You’re also siding out cards that are frequently bad against them, so I think it’s an easy swap. You could consider Unravel the Aether instead, but you can find Reclamation Sage with Genesis Hydra and it’s a permanent for Devotion. Either way, I think it’s a close call.
VS G/W Constellation
This matchup is funny. They are capable of going way over the top of you with Sigil of the Empty Throne, but oftentimes a midgame Dragonlord Atarka will clear the way for a lethal attack. Despite having inevitability, they don’t do a great job at prolonging the game unless they get their engine active as soon as possible. After sideboarding, things get even more difficult for them as you get access to several removal spells and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, which can undo all their hard work.
Overall, this is a very, very favorable matchup.
The games are going to play out in one of two different ways. Either you they put you on the back foot with an early large creature, or you stabilize behind a wall of Manifests and hope to draw into an Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. In the first scenarios, you’re looking to blow up any Aqueous Forms and chump block while clocking them on your own. Nissa, Worldwaker and Crater’s Claws go a long way toward racing Heroic and their army of Grizzly Bears. Rogue’s Passage can also do a number on them.
Most of the games don’t last very long, plus Bant Heroic has Dromoka’s Commands, so there’s no point in keeping in Courser of Kruphix. Dragonlord Atarka is large, but it rarely kills the thing you want it to when it enters the battlefield.
VS Abzan Rally
This matchup is similar to the Heroic matchup. They’re doing different things, but it ultimately boils down to a race. Thankfully, G/R Devotion does a better job of interacting with 1/1s and 2/2s than 6/6s, so your cards are actually live against Rally. Polukranos, World Eater and Dragonlord Atarka can do a number on their board position, but you should be wary of what will happen should they be holding a Rally the Ancestors as you don’t want to give them more enters-the-battlefield triggers.
Consider bringing in Ugin, the Spirit Dragon if they appear to be playing and sideboarding as a control deck. Sometimes their plan against G/R Devotion involves putting Fleshbag Marauders onto the battlefield as often as possible and sideboarding out some of their combo. In those cases, cards like Ugin, the Spirit Dragon are often unbeatable for them.
VS Abzan Aggro
The plan here is very similar to the plan against Abzan Control. You want to explode before they’re able to use their cards effectively. Their choke point is mana, so you need to be doing big stuff early and often. There will be some games where you grind them out with Whisperwood Elemental, Genesis Hydra, and Dragonlord Atarka, but they will likely beat you down before you can cast all your spells.
You could take the approach of siding out Xenagos, the Reveler on the draw because it will be difficult to protect, but since Xenagos is one of your most explosive cards I don’t like that plan. Their Dromoka’s Commands aren’t actually great against you since it will be difficult to fight a big thing while also forcing you to sacrifice a Courser of Kruphix. Despite that, Courser of Kruphix is an easy card to shave here because the games typically don’t last long and it doesn’t block very well.
VS Jeskai Midrange
On the play – Out:
On the draw – Out:
This matchup is weird because there is no consensus best list. If they have Tragic Arrogance (or End Hostilities, although Tragic Arrogance is a much better card), you’ll probably want to keep in the Whisperwood Elementals. Mantis Rider threatens your planeswalkers, but you’ll often be able to create sequences where you play a planeswalker, get a use out of it, force them to attack it, and then play another planeswalker. At that point, you’ll be very far ahead.
Gather Courage is useful for saving your creatures from burn spells, but Jeskai doesn’t have as many as the Mono-Red Aggro decks do so you might not want to overdo it. Instead, they’ll be trying to fight you with Disdainful Stroke, Valorous Stance, and Ojutai’s Command. Anger of the Gods may also be a concern, as is Stoke the Flames on Whisperwood Elemental, so keep all those things under consideration.
Sideboarding in a Roast on the draw is a nod to Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. If you’re on the draw and they’re able to get Jace active before you have much of a board presence, you will get buried quickly.
Yes, the Crater’s Claws comes in against literally everything. No, I do not want all of them maindeck. The maindeck copy is a concession to needing some amount of interaction in Game Ones. However, the sideboarded games play out wildly differently than the other games.
Pre-board you are looking to do your thing, which requires a solid mix of mana, acceleration, and big plays, so there’s not really a lot of room to play around with interaction. What you want are things that are big plays that also interact with them, so either having roadblocks or creatures that remove their creatures is better than playing a spot removal spell.
Post-board, the games are scrappier, as your opponent is going to do their best to stop you from doing what you’re trying to do. Because of that, you often end up cutting some of the big cards that are at their worst in that matchup and playing a bit more aggressively.
Most of the time, I removed whichever clunky card was the worst in the matchup and turned into a lower-to-the-ground G/R deck that was capable of racing. With the rise of Kibler’s G/W Aggro deck, it makes me wonder if G/R Dragons wouldn’t be good again. Stormbreath Dragon is pretty bad against Mono-Red Aggro and U/R Thopters, but it’s near-unbeatable against the various G/W decks in the format.
As for the deck itself, Shaman of Forgotten Ways would have probably been great, but Courser of Kruphix was just good enough for me. The deck has enough big things that are shave-able, such as Polukranos, World Eater and Whisperwood Elemental. You only want to draw one copy of each of your cards each game, and because of that playing a bunch of three-ofs may be correct. That would allow you to slot in a couple more mana accelerants, and Shaman of Forgotten Ways is likely the best of those.
The only real change I would consider making is shaving a Nylea’s Disciple in the sideboard. The third was extraneous and would be better served as a card for control decks, such as Gaea’s Revenge. Another sideboard card could become another copy if you expected to play against a control deck or two. Other than that and the possible inclusion of Shaman of Forgotten Ways, I thought the deck was beautiful.
After a string of solid, hope-inducing finishes, I don’t want to become overconfident or complacent. At the very least, I’m back to feeling like I belong in that feature match area instead of feeling nervous, apprehensive, or meek. The imposter syndrome is very real, but I’m working through it.
I’m pretty sure I have a good deck for the Legacy portion of the Season Three Invitational in New Jersey. The Modern Open in Charlotte comes first for me, but I consider that tournament a freeroll, so it looks like I’ll continue playing Standard for a while. The format is full of powerful interactions, and something out there might be breakable. At the very least, I’ll be on the lookout for things that appear to be well-positioned, such as Stormbreath Dragon.
This Standard format is straight gasoline. Siege Rhino, Dragonlord Ojutai, and Den Protector are all amazing cards, but they can’t stand up to Sigil of the Empty Throne, Sphinx’s Tutelage, or Ensoul Artifact when they’re not prepared for them. I fully expect the format to continue churning and wouldn’t be surprised if Standard looked entirely different by the time the Season Three Invitational rolled around. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.