Mono-Green Devotion In Modern

Four-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor Michael Jacob talks about the Mono-Green Devotion deck he’s been working on in Modern. Check it out before Grand Prix Richmond!

Modern is a fun format with tons of viable deck choices. On my stream, I try to play different decks every week so that the content doesn’t become boring. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to Tarmogoyfs, Scapeshifts, Cryptic Commands, or Bitterblossoms. This limits my deckbuilding capabilities, but I was still able to try Tron, Kiki Pod, Melira Pod, Splinter Twin, Burn, Living End, G/W Hate Bears, and more. Still, my desire to bring my viewers something new often leads me to tournament results to see what’s happening, where I saw a curious deck using Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx; basic Forests, and Genesis Wave together to create huge boards. I was intrigued, found a list I liked, and started playing it.

This is not the first article on Mono-Green Devotion in Modern, and it will not be the last. People put an inordinate and irrational stock into being first and think that somehow every Magic player until the end of time owes them royalties. This mystical street cred can’t be used to buy anything but to put down others as “unoriginal” or convince someone that another deck you create that cannot stand on its own merits is worthy of discussion.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel.

Building upon and tuning decks is what makes Magic such a great game. In the age of the Internet, tournament results are posted so fast and in so many different places that it’s impossible to keep a secret for long. Every game you’ve ever played, every article you’ve ever read, and every person you’ve ever talked to influences you in some way, and it’s absurd to claim ownership of something that took the summation of all your experiences with others as solely your own.

With that aside, here’s the deck I’ve been tuning for the past month:

The deck has four primary win conditions.

1. Primeval Titan and run them over with Kessig Wolf Run + Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx.

2. Repeat turns over and over with Primal Command + Eternal Witness until you win with Craterhoof Behemoth or Wolfbriar Elemental.

3. Genesis Wave for at least six. Hitting Eternal Witness can return Genesis Wave or any Garruk Wildspeakers / Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx you hit to allow you to cast it again, drawing your whole deck and eventually killing them with a very angry Craterhoof Behemoth.

4. Lots of small creatures and Garruk’s ultimate.

How a deck wins is only part of understanding how a deck operates. This machine has a ton of moving parts, and I’ll go over each in detail so you can see how they work together to create the end product.

4 Arbor Elf, 4 Utopia Sprawl

Arbor Elf makes his best Sol Ring impression with this wombo combo. Turn 1 Forest and Arbor Elf into turn 2 Forest and Utopia Sprawl on the untapped Forest gives us access to four mana on turn 2. In Magical Christmas Land, this could even allow us to cast a Garruk Wildspeaker, who can untap two lands to give us access to three mana (due to Utopia Sprawl) and then a Wistful Selkie. Utopia Sprawl is of special note because it’s free when put it on an untapped land (for instance, before you activate a Joraga Treespeaker) and actually produces mana if you plan on getting an activation of Nykthos on the same turn (one from Sprawl and one from devotion to green).

2 Joraga Treespeaker

Provides a key function in being able to produce two mana from a single card and is critical in games you mulligan. The one-turn windup before Treespeaker produces mana restricts their number in the deck to two since drawing multiples can be too slow. Be aware the level up ability is something your opponent can respond to, so cast cards like Utopia Sprawl and Burning-Tree Emissary beforehand so that your whole turn does not get blanked by a card like Lightning Bolt or Path to Exile. Joraga Treespeaker is also an excellent mana sink because a 1/4 can block quite well. It’s often better to level up turn 2 if you have nothing else to do, as attacking for one is not as useful as allowing Arbor Elf to produce two green later in the game.

2 Birds of Paradise

What Joraga Treespeaker number three and four turned into after drawing too many of them. The fourth best turn 1 play in the deck still provides valuable flying offense with Kessig Wolf Run or blocking a flier like Celestial Colonnade so your Garruk can ultimate.

4 Burning-Tree Emissary

An obvious combo with Nykthos and a body that can kill fast with Garruk Wildspeaker’s ultimate. Special note is that Burning-Tree Emissary produces mana when put into play from Genesis Wave, allowing us to coincidentally use whatever Nykthos we find to do other things.

4 Garruk Wildspeaker

One of the more powerful cards in the deck, all three functions are utilized to their fullest. Untapping lands is his primary function, getting multiple activations of Nykthos or Wolf Run in the same turn or utilizing Utopia Sprawl to set up a value Genesis Wave. Taking advantage of the new planeswalker rule, this deck uses Genesis Wave to puts permanents into play. Using Garruk to cast a giant Genesis Wave gives us a high probability to hit either a Primeval Titan (that will find Wolf Run and Nykthos if you didn’t have them already) or other Garruks. If you hit another copy of Garruk, keep the newest one, use it to untap Nykthos and the land that has Utopia Sprawl on it (that Genesis Wave kindly provided for us), and do the Wave once more.

2 Abundant Growth, 3 Wistful Selkie, 4 Eternal Witness

Nykthos needs at least four green mana symbols in play to produce mucho manas, but you also need things to do with that mana. Abundant Growth and Wistful Selkie provide devotion and draw you a card (and are free the turns you use Nykthos, as their mana symbols are equal to the cost in playing them). Garruk Wildspeaker turns these cantrips into Dark Rituals because multiple uses of Nykthos counts your mana symbols multiple times.

A subtle interaction is casting Abundant Growth on a Verdant Catacombs or Misty Rainforest. Not only does this allow the land to produce mana of any color without the loss of life, but you can also sacrifice the fetch land in response to the card draw ability to improve the quality of your deck before you draw a card. The reason we do all this fancy footwork instead of just using it on a basic land is that this line of play ends with Abundant Growth in the graveyard, allowing Eternal Witness to return it for value!

Eternal Witness often returns a land early or whatever is discarded to enemy Thoughtseizes. She can also be a massive mana producer in returning extra copies of legendary permanents (Garruk and Nykthos) from the graveyard, can wombo combo with Primal Command at eight mana for a Time Warp effect, and can return Genesis Wave if revealed to do the Wave and get your entire deck. Don’t forget that Eternal Witness never leaves one behind, as very often you will have enough mana to Eternal Witness back Eternal Witness and then do whatever else you wanted to do for the turn.

1 Craterhoof Behemoth, 1 Wolfbriar Elemental, 3 Primeval Titan

Craterhoof Behemoth has haste, so it allows you to kill the turn you go off since it’s likely any other creatures you have in play are tapped to produce mana. It’s also an easy Primal Command target for when you have thirteen mana just lying around. Be aware that Genesis Wave putting permanents into play is optional, so if you hit Craterhoof Behemoth on your first Genesis Wave and it won’t be big enough let him go to the graveyard to be picked up later with Primal Command (shuffle graveyard and search) or Eternal Witness.

Wolfbriar Elemental is for the games where you have Primal Command but not much of a board presence so a Craterhoof Behemoth would not be enough to kill them. The combo of 2/2s and Garruk Wildspeaker’s ultimate is also outstanding.

Primeval Titan finds Kessig Wolf Run; Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx; and Misty Rainforest / Verdant Catacombs. Remember to crack the fetch lands on your upkeep to improve the quality of your deck. A clever play is to find a Nykthos even if you already have one, as you can utilize Eternal Witness to pick up the second one in the graveyard to produce a ton of mana to kill in one hit with Wolf Run.

2 Primal Command, 3 Genesis Wave

Primal Command combos with Eternal Witness to constantly put a land on top of the opponent’s deck for eight mana. Do this four times and grab a Craterhoof Behemoth to finish them off. You can also curve Primal Command into Primeval Titan or even search for an Arbor Elf to help set off an even bigger following turn.

Genesis Wave is a huge mana sink that can be used for value at six to eight mana or threaten lethal at nine-plus mana. Be aware that any Utopia Sprawls you hit can only go onto lands that were already on the battlefield (Forest put into play from Genesis Wave itself are not valid choices to enchant).

Mono-Green Devotion has tons of difficult mulligan decisions and complicated sequencing, and to become proficient there is no substitute for practice. To assist you in this regard, I have some videos of me playing the deck against a variety of scenarios on my stream. The lists you see are not exactly the same as I’m writing about today because cards have been going in and out over the past month. For example, Deathrite Shaman was only banned last week on Magic Online.

First, let’s begin with what happens in the ideal scenario:

Watch live video from Darkest_Mage on TwitchTV

Too long didn’t watch: opening hand of Forest; Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx; Burning-Tree Emissary; Utopia Sprawl; Arbor Elf; Primeval Titan; and Garruk Wildspeaker. You can guess how that ended.

Perfect draws are great, but here’s a video of a post-sideboard game against Tron where we face some resistance.

Watch live video from Darkest_Mage on TwitchTV

This was a complete post-sideboard game where we mulliganed to five, got blindsided by Torpor Orb, lost all but three Forests to an Oblivion Stone, and still won. A great showing of playing to our outs.

Finally, we have a video where we mulligan to three but still pull it out.

Watch live video from Darkest_Mage on TwitchTV

This was a mulligan to three against Infect. My ranting on bugs was my ignorance of the rules, as +1/+1 counters and -1/-1 do not negate each other until after the check on whether a creature is put into the graveyard as part of the state-based effect for having zero or less toughness. This game shows the power of Joraga Treespeaker producing two mana from one card and Garruk providing roadblocks and obscene amounts of mana.

There are undoubtedly many ideas on where to go that are not included in this list. I’m going to get ahead of many of the questions and talk about cards that are not included in the list.

Noble Hierarch

Vying for the spot of fourth best mana producer, we have Noble Hierarch and Birds of Paradise. Attacking with a single creature is extremely rare, and producing red for Ancient Grudge, black for Dismember, attacking with flying over first strikers like Thalia and Blade Splicer, or blocking a creature wearing Cranial Plating gives Birds of Paradise the edge.

2 Misty Rainforest

There were zero for most of the games I played because Deathrite Shaman was in the format. With its banning, we can be a little more liberal and improve Genesis Wave, Eternal Witness, and Abundant Growth with a few more fetch lands. I’m not suggesting more since you often keep one-land hands so thinning a land out of your deck when you need to draw a second is not so great.

Nylea’s Presence / Voyaging Satyr

Adorable with Arbor Elf and Nykthos, but games where you have plenty of permanents and Nykthos are not games you need assistance in. Voyaging Satyr is just too slow and is worse than Fertile Ground or Overgrowth, which are also not played. Speaking of which:

Fertile Ground / Overgrowth

Outside of their interaction with Arbor Elf, these cards are just too slow. Modern is a turn 4 format, so you want to empty your hand fully on turn 3 of everything but your win condition. In addition, these enchant lands create a huge vulnerability to Ghost Quarter and Cryptic Command (returning your land) that their low power level does not warrant.

Tooth and Nail; Xenagos, God of Revels; & Emrakul, the Aeons Torn

Tooth and Nail does allow us to kill easily from nine mana, as a Genesis Wave for six has a low chance of missing. The problem is I often cast Genesis Wave for five to eight mana just for value, something Tooth and Nail is unable to do. Adding a second Craterhoof Behemoth to search for does not guarantee wins, so you would need to add the combo of Xenagos God of Revels and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn as the win condition. Even this combination is vulnerable to Pestermite / Deceiver Exarch / Cryptic Command tapping, so this is still not 100%. Many deckbuilders underestimate the impact of adding blank draws like these to the deck, so I believe in its current configuration and that Tooth and Nail is not good enough.

Acidic Slime / Viridian Corrupter / Viridian Shaman

Never wanted any of these as targets to search for, as Eternal Witness outclasses them all.

Elvish Visionary

Worse than Abundant Growth as a devotion enabler and worse than Wistful Selkie as a body. Likely worse than even Nylea’s Presence at having a potential impact in a game as a 1/1 creature.

Lotus Cobra

Not for a deck with 21 lands and only six fetch lands. Burning-Tree Emissary does the job better, as would Wall of Roots.

Wall of Roots

Not currently being used, but certain metagames may find him necessary against Wild Nacatl.

Vexing Shusher

A card commonly asked about mostly because no one has actually played with it. On paper it seems to add devotion and attack for two, but the reality is much different. What actually happens is that you would need to have an extra mana to “protect” your spell. The opponent can then respond with a removal spell targeting Vexing Shusher. Letting it resolve leaves your spell vulnerable to the very counterspells you wanted to protect from, and activating his ability in response just allows your opponent to respond to that with the counterspell. An all-around underpowered card, worse than Boseiju, Who Shelters All. I would much rather have an additional threat instead.

Sword of Feast and Famine, Sword of War and Peace

Good in theory, but the problem is the creatures you are equipping are too small. Sword of Feast and Famine just gets blocked by Restoration Angel or Celestial Colonnade, and B/G decks still have Lightning Bolt, Abrupt Decay, and Liliana of the Veil.

Cloudstone Curio

An incredibly interesting idea, but likely far too slow for Modern.

Regal Force

Similar to Elves in Legacy, Mono-Green Devotion uses a multitude of green mana producers to reach a critical mass and end the game with Craterhoof Behemoth instead. There are two scenarios that often come up—you either have little going on and a Regal Force drawing a card will not save you or have a lot going on in and Craterhoof Behemoth would just kill them.

Magus of the Library / Magus of the Candelabra

Both are too weak and situational.

Cool Nonbasic Lands

Utopia Sprawl and Arbor Elf require Forests. These lands would primarily be found with Primeval Titan, but you don’t need help in the games when it resolves. Kessig Wolf Run and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx together make any of your creatures lethal. Ghost Quarter is better than Tectonic Edge for the mirror and Tron decks, which only need three lands to go off.

Big Green Idiots

These are all just giant creatures that offer no card advantage, mana, or flexibility for our combo beyond devotion to Nykthos. These all seem like cards that would fit into a completely different deck. That deck would be a lot better against “fair” decks with Wild Nacatl, Bitterblossom, and/or Cryptic Command but significantly worse against turn 4 combo decks like Goryo’s Vengeance, Pyromaster’s Ascension, Birthing Pod, Splinter Twin, Tron, Scapeshift, and Burn.

Summoning Trap

This blast from the past could be essential if Faeries becomes the next big thing. Spellstutter Sprite or Mana Leak on a Birds of Paradise could lead into a Summoning Trap for Primeval Titan with Eternal Witness providing rebuy potential. Definitely something to look out for, especially with the next card.

Knight of the Reliquary + Arena

With Deathrite Shaman gone, Knight of the Reliquary could be added. With that in the mix, Arena can be used to shut down most creature-based combo decks like Splinter Twin and Birthing Pod.

I believe Mono-Green Devotion is a firm contender in a metagame with other turn 4 combo decks like Birthing Pod, Goryo’s Vengeance, Pyromaster’s Ascension, and Living End. I think someone will do well with this style of deck at Pro Tour Born of the Gods and am really interested to see how it performs and how they choose to build it.