Still Devoted: My SCG Chicago Experience

Brad Nelson has gone so far as to call G/R Devotion “The Fun Police,” as in “this is the reason you can’t just play whatever you want in Standard.” So it comes as no surprise that he and his squad played it at #SCGCHI – or that they did very well for themselves.

Tournament reports have never been my cup of tea. That’s mostly because I’m a coffee drinker, but I never really got into the whole “this is how my tournament went and who I played” type of article. I just always think that the train of thought is so much more interesting than the retrospective analysis. That’s why this past weekend I decided I was going to try something new. I brought my laptop with me everywhere I went during the Open Series in Chicago and wrote about was I was experiencing and feeling as the event unfolded. I have no idea if the information will be valuable, but I do know it will be something new.

This story begins on the eve of SCG Chicago. I just landed at O’Hare International Airport with my sights set on taking home a trophy. Sure, it might not be the most important tournament I will be playing in the next couple weeks, but it is the first stop on my journey.

Well, baggage claim is the first stop if we are being technical…

It’s quite the journey from the airport to the hotel, but luckily a nice lady is there to help me learn the ropes in the big city of Chicago. You see, the native play is to call a cab company to take you to the suburbs. Me being wet behind the ears, I was poised to jump in the astronomically-long taxi line which would take longer while charging more. The heroine not only saved me some precious time, but also roughly thirty dollars.

The good luck continues when I get to the hotel with a large Chicago-style pizza waiting for me.

Also known as not-pizza

Todd, being the good friend he is, planned accordingly and ordered us a pie to get there roughly when I would. I was starving since I spent the whole day traveling, most of which was tied to anticipation of Chicago-style pizza that left me unnourished by other mere foods. I gobbled up as many slices as I could before starting my preparations for the days ahead.

After a week of testing, I can say one thing is for certain: Standard is in a unique place right now. The new cards are good, but no one is really sure if they are better than the ones we already had access to. I tried so many things this past week with Ross Merriam, but nothing we threw at G/R Devotion would stick. Defeated, we just chose to play it. The only question was how many others would do the same. The mirror match is awful and I would much rather play a deck designed to beat Devotion than play mirror matches all day, but my options were limited. Any deck with a good-enough draw can beat the green menace, but most average draws would be left in the dust.

I guess the only thing to do is try to find mirror match technology and hope it works out. The only real “mirror-breaker” in the format is Shaman of Forgotten Ways, but it’s not like that card is broken. I’m not sure if playing that card is going to be worth the slots, but I want to do something. Especially since I’m cutting Deathmist Raptor for Nissa, Vastwood Seer in this tournament, I won’t have much early game for the mirror so having a good three-drop for the matchup could be nice.

Speaking of Nissa, Vastwood Seer, I’m playing it without any testing in Devotion this weekend. I played around with the card in Bant Megamorph and Abzan Control, but never in the green ramp strategies. The only reason for the random addition of the card is that I think Deathmist Raptor is going to be weak this weekend. Languish is a card that many people are talking about, which makes it a worse spell. One could argue that the resiliency of the card makes it good against Wraths, but I don’t think that is the case when they will keep some creatures around. I would much rather get a forest out of my Nissa before dying to Languish than find myself trying to come back from a bad board state when my opponent successfully keeps a Siege Rhino around post-Languish. I might be wrong since it is all theory, as well as my usual incorrectness during Week One of a new format, but I have to choose something.

I guess all I can do is go with my gut and get some sleep.


Even though I have two byes, I get up early enough to go with my comrades before the tournament starts. This will give me enough time to get my deck polished through some conversations and scouting in the first couple of rounds. There are so many unique brews in the room! Littered in the sea of Sandsteppe Citadels are Black Devotion decks, a crazy Rally the Ancestors combo deck, and even Temur brews. I have no idea why people are still trying to make Temur work, but more power to them. Jack Fogle is even in the round one feature match with Pyromancer’s Goggles (I guess he didn’t read my last article). I don’t know if this is what the entire field of 762 is doing, but my sample size is enough to for me to go on. I even see enough Devotion to justify the Forgotten One.

Hard at work

The “work” is done for my two-hour wait period, so I spend some quality time with the old squad.

Round Five Update

After five rounds, I’m sitting at 4-1. Rounds three and five ended up the same way. I played against Abzan Midrange/Control variants that thought they could lean on Languish to control my board. Polukranos, World Eater, Nissa, Vastwood Seer, and Xenagos, the Reveler had something to say about that. I haven’t played Devotion since the Season Two Invitational where I expected more Megamorph and Aggro versions of Abzan, but these controlling versions don’t seem to be as big of a concern as I originally thought.

My loss, however, was at the hands of Forest Winstead playing Rakdos Warriors/Dragons. I don’t really know how else to explain it. I crushed him in game one before I had a chance to know what he was doing, which would end up being my downfall. I sideboarded incorrectly both games and lost because of it. He went super-aggressive with Warriors in game two but transitioned to Anger of the Gods and Thunderbreak Regents in game three.

So this is what I’ve been doing to people this whole time?!?

My face.

I’m feeling pretty good moving forward. Everyone in my group playing the deck is still undefeated. From the looks of it, G/R Devotion was the correct choice for the weekend. Abzan showed up in high numbers trying to be the “Fun Police,” but they seem to have forgotten how to beat Devotion. This might just be a great day for me if I can keep running into these Languish Abzan decks because the matchup isn’t even bad.

I’m pretty sure people think that because they now have Languish that they are supposed to keep in Siege Rhino. I prepared for this by having the two Roast in my sideboard, but the card is rarely good in the matchup. I’ve been easily winning post-Siege Rhino since they take so much time off just to cast it. This has been detrimental all day for my opponents.

End Of The Day

I’m sitting at 8-1 as the day concludes. The rest of the day went really smoothly after my first loss. Abzan pretty much made up my entire day besides the round I lost to Mardu and a U/B Control player. Even though I thought I was going to lose both games to U/B Control, I didn’t know that each game his hand was littered with irrelevant cards and that Gaea’s Revenge is a messed-up Magic card in that matchup.

I’m feeling pretty lucky since I defeated all five Abzan opponents, but the rest of my squad is also sitting at 8-1 with the deck. Ross might have even finished out 9-0 if he trusted me with the Shaman of Forgotten Ways. You see, the reason we put it in the deck was for the mirror match, but a squad somehow showed up with Turbo Fog. There really isn’t a single way to beat that deck with Devotion besides a fairly humorous Biorhythm. Todd ended up easily beating the one Turbo Fog opponent he faced with Shaman of Forgotten Ways.


The day was long and my boys are tired.

Anyway, I just ate some more pizza since Gerry Thompson is in my squad and we all know how much he loves pizza. After a long day of sequencing against Abzan and a night filled with pizza pie, I think it’s time to go to sleep. Scouting for tomorrow has shown that the Rally the Ancestor deck I stumbled upon earlier in the day is the breakout deck of the tournament, but also that Jeff Hoogland is going strong with a new version of U/W Control. I have no idea what my matchups are like against these decks, but I know they will only get worse if I don’t get some sleep.


The day hasn’t started off the best. I played against Jeskai Tokens which is a pretty bad matchup unless I draw extremely well. To top off the loss, my opponent even started with a game loss due to showing up late. I’m not too upset over the loss, but I didn’t want to have my back against the wall this early.

The next two rounds I played against the mirror match and another Abzan deck. Both matches only went to two games and I was fortunate in both. I don’t actually know if I played well or was rewarded by playing this deck. I feel like I had decisions to make some of the time, but not enough to actually think I “deserved” the wins like I would with a more skill-intensive deck.

To be honest, I think that is actually one of the pros to playing this deck, so it still boggles my mind that more people don’t. This deck is disgusting while being rather easy to play! It’s so powerful and has so many free wins, but it also requires some finesse to get out of sticky situations. I’m pretty sure people think this deck is just the gimmicky deck of the format and it is strictly draw-dependent, and yet good players constantly do well with the deck when they actually play it.

Middle Of The Day Update

This deck is all luck! I just lost to stupid Ross Merriam in the mirror match after winning the die roll and winning game one! I even had Shaman of Forgotten Ways and still didn’t win! This deck is stupid and takes no skill to win with. I hate it!

I lost again! This time to Jeff Hoogland and his new take on U/W Control. I’m a bit disappointed with my draws, but the matchup seems bad on paper anyway. That loss has knocked me out of contention for Top Eight, but Ross Merriam is sitting pretty at 12-2 with one round to go. At least we put one person into the single elimination matches. Just one more to go before the day is done and I can decompress from the weekend.

The last round in this tournament was one to remember. I played against the infamous Matthew Tickal. He’s the story of the tournament with his crazy Rally the Ancestors deck. Standings looked like one of us would end up in Top Sixteen with a win while the other would still sneak into Top 32 with a loss. With that information, we chose to battle instead of draw. I thought the matchup would be bad, but whatever. I lost too many rounds today to care about it. I just want to feel something! I also want to run blocks for Todd, Tom, and BBD. Just because I’m already qualified for the Players’ Championship doesn’t mean I don’t have a few dogs in the race.

I was a little scared going into the match, but the stress isn’t palpable when you are out of Top Eight contention. I won the very-important die roll and ended up killing Tickal a turn before he was able to rally back some dead people. The next game saw him stumbling just long enough for me to Biorhythm him with Shaman of Forgotten Ways. He had one blocker and twenty life when the turn started but ended up at exactly one life right before my trampling Forest went to say hello.

It’s always nice to end a tournament on a high note!

All-in-all, the tournament went pretty well. I was hoping to Top Eight after an 8-1 finish on Day One, but the stars can only align so many times this season. I was happy with my deck choice, but would have made some slight changes to it if I got to do it all over again. First of all, I would cut the Hornet Queen for the fourth Genesis Hydra. Languish is changing the game against all shapes and sizes of Abzan which makes it much worse in the matchup. That and they also all have Den Protector, which is sometimes a defensive issue.

The other major change I would have made is cutting Plummet from my sideboard. There just weren’t enough fliers in the field to justify the card. I didn’t know whether G/R Dragons would show up or not, but I hedged assuming some people would still play it. I was wrong. My copies of Nissa, Worldwakers pulled a ton of weight, but that might have been because all I played was Abzan, the Devotion mirror, and control decks all tournament long.

I don’t really know what this tournament means for the upcoming Pro Tour, but I do think that Devotion will continue to be a powerhouse in the format. The deck is just too powerful not to be. Sure, people had fun in the Open trying new things, but when the dust settled we still saw that Devotion reigned supreme.

One thing that is worth noting about the event is the alarmingly high win percentage we all had against Abzan decks in all shapes and sizes. The Abzan versus Devotion matchup has always favored those who worship at the Shrine to Nyx, but at least Abzan would compete. This weekend was awful for Abzan. I don’t know the exact numbers, but I think as a whole Todd, Ross, Chris Andersen, and I lost to the deck only one or twice while all playing it around a half-dozen times. We just obliterated the deck!

This doesn’t mean things can’t change, but the way to build Abzan is to not try and be as midrange as possible if you’re concern with beating the non-Abzan decks. Maybe I’m being biased since I have been a Devotion player for a while, but things have to change if that deck wants to win a tournament again. Languish is good in the matchup, but you can’t lean on the card as hard as people did this weekend. It also makes them want to keep Siege Rhino in their deck, which isn’t always the best strategy.

I’m about ready to go grab some food with the guys before getting ready for my flight to Dallas tomorrow. Once there, I will be joined by the rest of my team in preparation for the Pro Tour. They will be trying to break the format while I will be doing my best to perfect this deck. I understand that G/R Devotion has a lot of heat right now, but it’s just too good to ignore. Honestly, I would just play Devotion next weekend if the Grand Prix wasn’t Limited.

I know this article wasn’t that dense with the usual information on Standard, but to be honest, I don’t know much more than this. The only thing I can say confidently about this format is…