While preparing for Grand Prix Dallas-Fort Worth, I wondered a lot of things. I wondered why Mono-Blue Devotion was still on top. I wondered why there were no copies of Mono-Black Devotion in the Top 16 of Grand Prix Vienna. And I wondered by Last Breath was getting so much press while people seemed to just forget about this card:
But once I got to the Grand Prix, I mostly just wandered.
I decided that I was going to play Brad Nelson deck from one of the Versus videos we recorded last week, which was a Mono-Black Devotion deck that splashed blue almost primarily for Dimir Charm. After seeing the card in action and doing some testing of my own via Magic Online, it was not hard to sell me. After all, if Last Breath was so freaking good, then how insanely good was Dimir Charm?
Here’s what I ended up playing at GP Dallas-Fort Worth:
After a demoralizing day 1, I ended up roaming the frozen streets of Fort Worth in search of food and drink. Luckily, I found The Fox and the Hound, which happened to be the only place within six blocks of our hotel that served food. Upon my arrival, I had already resigned my fate to a lonely night of Amber Boch and college football. I ended up meeting some Magic players from the area named Luke and Paul (sorry, don’t know last names) who were already having a good time up at the bar, and they invited me over to join them.
At first, I was hesitant. I almost just wanted to be left alone to sulk into my beer about how poorly the weekend had already gone. So many friends had missed their flights, and I was dead on day 1 trying to figure out where everything went wrong. The Dimir Charms had been awesome, so what was so different about the deck where I went 4-3 instead of 9-0 on day 1?
After some mild contemplation, I figured it’d be good for me to come out of my lazy shell and just have a good time. It had been a while since I’d been able to really cut loose on a Magic trip, and Paul was nice enough to buy a round of shots for the three of us so suffice it to say that things were off to a fantastic start.
That night I remembered what it felt like to connect with someone I’d never met before. Paul and Luke were pretty smart guys who knew how to have a good time. All it took was for me to stop feeling sorry for myself and actually try to have some fun.
The night went long, and we went pretty hard. But I was just going to sleep in the next day, so it didn’t matter all that much. I ended up going to the event hall around 2:30 PM or so and just did nothing all day except for draft and bird some matches. Tim Aten would be proud.
For the most part, the day was a resounding success because I was actually just stuck in my own head for most of it. I kept thinking about different iterations of the Mono-Black Devotion deck to play at the SCG Invitational and how Brad would almost assuredly try to get me to play whatever deck he was on (and would probably fail).
After watching William Jensen U/W Control deck eventually lose in the finals to B/W Devotion, which pushed aside Gray Merchant of Asphodel in favor of Blood Baron of Vizkopa and played the infamous Last Breath, I realized a couple things.
One of the strongest aspects of Last Breath (and Dimir Charm) is that it kills every single creature out of Mono-Blue Devotion aside from Thassa. It answers many of the cards that are fairly problematic for the majority of your two-mana removal spells. Nightveil Specter is such a pain in the ass and generally requires you to use a Hero’s Downfall to deal with it, but Last Breath ends up filling a genuinely soft spot in the deck.
Now the only question is whether or not I should just abandon the blue version of the deck in favor of the white version. I mean, is Blood Baron of Vizkopa really all that good right now with so many Devour Fleshes in the format? Is Gray Merchant actually a card that I want to play; if not, what does that mean about the rest of the deck?
Over the last week and a half, I was actually on the fence about Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Desecration Demon, and even Underworld Connections. I really feel like Gray Merchant and Underworld Connections go hand in hand and the quality of one really depends on the quality of the other. If one of those two cards is lacking in the metagame, then the other is probably not that good either. Or at least that was my running theory.
On the other hand, Desecration Demon is a creature that looks so good in a vacuum but plays so terribly sometimes. Your opponent drew the second Master of Waves? Guess you’re never attacking or blocking with that guy. You really need a creature to play defense this turn? Guess you drew Desecration Demon and you’re just dead.
Of course, there are a lot of games where Desecration Demon helps you pull ahead very fast. These games are easily won with a combination of a few removal spells. However, the games where you fall behind, Desecration Demon is just about the worst spell in the deck to draw. It won’t help you catch up, and it won’t block when you need it to.
I also find myself boarding Desecration Demon out in a lot of matchups, which leads me to believe that I actually don’t want to be playing it. If I’m expecting to fall behind on a regular basis, then it’s one of the worst creatures I can have in your deck. Aside from the games I’m already winning, it just isn’t a card that I want to draw. And that gave me a crazy idea.
I started to think about playing Mono-Blue Devotion, but most of the creatures are pretty miserable. A solid combination of creatures will lead to some easy games, but there are some awkward draws featuring Mutavault and Nightveil Specter that are tough to get around. In an aggressive deck, this type of draw will often lead to a loss.
So what if we just combined the best of both worlds into one shell? I mean, how bad is Master of Waves when you’re only making one token? You won’t get a lot of the free wins you get from Master of Waves out of the Mono-Blue Devotion deck, but I can’t imagine four power for four mana is all that bad, especially so when he has a bit of natural invulnerability.
But we can make him good without playing too many of the mediocre creatures. Alongside a Nightveil Specter, it’s certainly good enough. But what if we start introducing other elements from the Mono-Blue Devotion deck into this one? What about playing a few other cards that seem particularly good right now and also add to the devotion?
After Brad showed me just how good Dimir Charm was last week, I just wanted a solid shell for it. And when I think most of the cards are bad in two different decks but I still see both decks winning, it only feels natural to combine the positive qualities of the two into something that I consider better. There are draws that play out like Mono-Blue Devotion and others that play out like Mono-Black Devotion, but it honestly doesn’t feel like either deck.
Here’s my current build of the U/B Control deck I’ve been working on.
After building the deck on Magic Online, I immediately won my first eight-man queue, but it seemed a bit rough. The original build featured no copies of Hero’s Downfall because I was afraid of not being able to cast it on turn 3 when I needed it most, but that fear was quickly subdued. Esper Control decks regularly play fewer black sources and cast it on time more often than not. Sixteen sources of black mana is plenty, but I wouldn’t fault you for playing a fourth Dimir Guildgate over an Island. I just hate having so many lands coming into play tapped because that can be an issue once in a while.
With the format slowing down considerably over the last few weeks and the fact that casting Thoughtseize on turn 1 isn’t all that important, the lands coming in tapped doesn’t hurt you nearly as much as I originally feared. There are very few times where playing a tapped land on turn 1 into a Thoughtseize and a tapped land on the second turn is detrimental. In the games where it’s not very good, you’re still generally able to catch up thanks to cards like Master of Waves and Domestication.
There are some clear points where synergy is lacking in this deck. I know that Pack Rat and Master of Waves aren’t really friends. However, I don’t think Pack Rat is really friends with anybody. At its core, Pack Rat is just a spell that generally dictates exactly how you play the rest of the game, and it rarely matters what spells you play after that. When you play an early Pack Rat, spells that cost one and two mana are so much more important than any other spell in the deck because those are the spells you can play on turns 4 and 5 while still making another Rat. When you get one of these games, it doesn’t really matter whether or not you have synergy with the rest of your deck. I can’t tell you how often I discard Gray Merchant of Asphodel or Underworld Connections to Pack Rat.
On the other side of the coin, both Pack Rat and Master of Waves make Mutavault into an absolutely ridiculous land. Brad tried to convince me that it was worth cutting some in order to have better mana, but there are so many games where having a Mutavault alongside Pack Rat is absolutely necessary to win. And in a Pack Rat war, the person who draws Mutavault instantly pushes ahead in combat.
Since we aren’t playing Gray Merchant, I think it’s safe to assume we can deduce why Jace, Architect of Thought is better for the deck than Underworld Connections. He can singlehandedly shut down an entire squadron of small idiots and immediately digs you into more action when you aren’t under pressure. Without Gray Merchant, the drain from Underworld Connections can be a liability, whereas Jace is almost always an absurd spell to draw regardless of what matchup you’re playing against.
Jace also gives you some much-needed devotion for Master of Waves. The games against aggressive decks where you start with two removal spells into Jace followed by Master of Waves are just absurd. Of course, these draws aren’t always the norm, but I think that just proves how good Jace can be against basically any opponent. I tend to find that many games with the deck are decided on whether or not I draw an early Jace.
The coolest part about this deck is that it feels very much like Mono-Black Devotion for the first half of the game and then transforms into something entirely different. Much like the Faeries decks of old, it can easily switch gears and turn into an aggressive deck thanks to Pack Rat or can play the control game while going late. It might have trouble matching card advantage with Sphinx’s Revelation, but that’s why we filled our deck with disruption alongside spells that are actually tough to interact with.
If your opponent ignores it, Ashiok or Jace can turn the game heavily in your favor. If they decide to interact with one of your planeswalkers, then you can focus on utilizing them to protect your life total while squeaking out small bits of card advantage here and there. Ashiok has actually been one of my favorite cards in the deck, as having it on the play alongside a Devour Flesh or Dimir Charm makes for some interesting situations for the opponent. Either they expend nearly all of their resources to kill it or you start casting creatures for free that will pose even more problems for them.
Against Mono-Black and Mono-Blue decks, Ashiok is ridiculous. Neither deck really has good answers to their own busted creatures, so hitting their Master of Waves, Nightveil Specter, or Pack Rat is just insane. There are other games where all you get to take is a Desecration Demon or maybe a Thassa, but they still are expending far more resources to deal with your one planeswalker than you are. The fact that you’re casting the creatures without paying mana means you’re moving ahead on tempo as well.
While Ashiok isn’t particularly busted against hyperaggressive strategies, it does force them into some difficult situations. I regularly board Ashiok out when it isn’t all that impressive, but it almost always gains you five life against aggressive decks or draws a Detention Sphere from control.
The Domestications in the deck are actually just absurd. The maindeck one is a concession to needing more sources for devotion; the original list actually played two, but the rise in popularity of Esper and U/W Control has forced me to cut back to one in the maindeck since you just can’t have too many dead spells against them. Additionally, having to spend four mana for your removal spell can sometimes be too slow.
Against Mono-Blue or Mono-Black Devotion, stealing a Nightveil Specter with Domestication usually ends the game on the spot. Your Master of Waves are that much stronger, and you end up using their own creature to start playing their spells and ultimately turn the game heavily in your favor. Of course, if they do have a way to kill it, they’re still getting destroyed on card and tempo advantage, which is one of the main draws for Control Magic effects anyway.
The sideboard is full of goodies, one in particular that I’m excited to play with.
Notion Thief is so absolutely ridiculous right now as long as you have the right cards to go along with it. In the Esper and U/W Control matchups, your Duresses and Thoughtseizes can only go so far. They will still have the top of the deck to smash you with, and Sphinx’s Revelation is always frightening. With Notion Thief, that shouldn’t be a problem. You get to steal all of their Divinations, Sphinx’s Revelations, and even cycled Azorius Charms!
Alongside the discard spells, you can actually sequence some games where you wait until turn 6 or 7 so you can cast your Notion Thief and discard spell in the same turn. If they have a Sphinx’s Revelation, they’re going to cast it. Leaving all that value on the table in the face of a Thoughtseize is just terrible. But when that happens, you’re ready to pounce and steal all that card advantage from them. It shouldn’t be all that hard to win the game from there.
Notion Thief actually has applications in the Mono-Black matchup as well. Every activation of Underworld Connections can be stolen with Notion Thief, which is pretty appealing when it’s one of the most important cards for them in the matchup.
When playing a Pack Rat mirror, there are multiple fronts to beat. First off, you have to be prepared for Pack Rat. If you can beat a Pack Rat, then you move to the second level of the battle. This level generally involves Nightveil Specter and Underworld Connections. While Notion Thief is only good at handling one of these three cards, I think the benefit you get from blanking one of their best cards is too much to pass up.
I know that this deck needs some work, but I honestly think it’s very good. You have a lot of good things going for you, and very few people will be expecting it. I don’t know if it’s quite ready for the SCG Invitational in Las Vegas this weekend, but I am currently planning on playing it barring some spectacular results from a Brad Nelson brew. The Top 8 of the Invitational is Standard, so keep an eye out for the brew one way or another!