The Fun Police: Running Back G/R Devotion

We had a powerful Standard format full of strong decks before Magic Origins hits, so it’s reasonable to expect that we’ll still have a format full of strong decks – and anything you’re playing using the new cards will still have to hit that level to compete.

I have learned some very important things since working with Magic Origins. Usually the last Core Set before rotation isn’t that high-impact. A few upgrades here and there followed by one or two brand-new archetypes emerging, but not much more than that. The two full blocks filled with synergies is just too much for the single Core Set to make that big of an impact. For example, last year we saw Rabble Red take over a large portion of the metagame, but things past that stayed relatively the same. Will that be the case for Magic Origins?

If it is, that would come to a big surprise since this set looks like a game-changer. So many cards in this set look poised to fight many of the powerhouses in Khans of Tarkir block while complementing the forgotten strengths of Theros Block. It’s easy to see that WotC did a good job keeping Devotion-based strategies from getting new toys until now, but will these multi-symbol spells from Magic Origins be enough to turn the tides on the decks we are currently playing?

My guess is no. Looking through the spoiler I was excited to build list after list trying to break all of the new wonders we have in front of us. The list continued to grow until a little voice asked me one very important question:

Can this beat G/R Devotion?

A question I forgot to ask myself from square one. G/R Devotion has been the #1 deck in this format for some time now. I only played G/R Devotion at the Season Two Invitational because I knew it would be well-positioned, but was afraid of the backlash of hate that would come from the Top Eight having multiple copies and the TCG Invitational tournament being won by Chris Fennell with the same 75.

Oddly enough, the hate didn’t show up. G/R Devotion continued to do well for weeks to come even though people knew the deck was on the radar from the weeks of results the deck put up. For some reason, people ignored it.

Maybe people don’t respect the archetype enough to hate it or play it. Maybe the answers to how to hate out such an explosive and resilient deck are too complex for those not willing to put countless hours into understanding the matchups. Maybe the deck is just too good to fully hate out of the metagame. Whatever the reason is, the deck was king before Magic Origins and nothing from this set makes me think things will change.

Answer this next question honestly:

Are the new lists with Magic Origins you’re seeing floating around able to beat G/R Devotion?

My current answer to this is no. The only deck that got a significant upgrade for the matchup is U/B Control, but we all knew that. U/B Control is a deck that got two major gifts and potentially enough to be a deck worth playing even if you don’t like your cards upside down and lands in front.

So what does this mean for Magic Origins? Well, that doesn’t make it a bad set. In all honestly, the eighth set in Standard rarely has a gigantic impact on a format that is already so solidified. What sets Origins apart from past Core sets is that the flavor and power level are so over-the-top that even if many of these cards don’t crush through the gates of Standard now it doesn’t mean they won’t be exceptionally more powerful when Theros and M15 rotate out.

I wouldn’t normally be doing my best impression of the Fun Police if the gauntlet leading up to Magic Origins wasn’t so powerful. Abzan Aggro and G/R Devotion are simply unbelievable decks! They have had major impacts on this format off-and-on since they were created. Regardless of threats, these decks have succeeded and I see no reason why this wouldn’t continue. Both have the ability to beat any deck in the format no matter what hate those decks are coming with. Take the Open Series in Baltimore for example.

Andrew Boswell has either been stuck in a time loop or his deck is actually just that good. He won the tournament with ease through a field of difficult matchups. Over and over again he dispatched someone playing a deck with his in mind, yet he constantly just cast threats and attacked. His list is unique to what the rest of hive mind thinks is good yet has found himself in a Grand Prix Top Eight in Miami, multiple SCG Open Top Eights, and has even become the champion of one with his take on the deck. It’s not like this deck was forgotten about. This deck has been around for months now and is regarded as one of the best decks and yet it still comes out on top.

Abzan Aggro didn’t get much from the new set, but did it really need anything? The deck already has an amazing curve with tons of options at all times for the metagame. I believe the only thing it will need to adapt to moving forward is Languish-based control decks. These could come in the form of Abzan, Sultai, or U/B depending on what’s the best at the moment. With all three of these archetypes being able to support such a powerhouse removal spell, I think the days of Wingmate Roc are gone. It just doesn’t matter in the deck anymore. Moving forward we will see more copies of Sorin, Solemn Visitor and Tasigur, the Golden Fang as cards that can still be played into the potent mass-removal spell.

So what does this all mean for Magic Origins? Well the real answer is that the new cards will have to complement existing archetypes until Theros Block rotates out. Even if most of these new cards make new Devotion decks possible, the format in its current state does not allow many permanents to be on the battlefield at one time. This is mostly thanks to G/R Devotion already having such a huge impact on the format. The only difference with the other Devotion-based decks is they do not get Elvish Mystic, which is the most powerful turn-one play in the format.

I guess it’s time to show you my updated list of G/R Devotion since I have been talking about it so much:

Amazing, right? With so many new updates, you probably think I’m after Patrick Chapin nickname! The thing is, G/R Devotion doesn’t need too many updates. It’s already a high-functioning deck. The only new card worth playing is Gaea’s Revenge due to how powerful that card is against U/B Control, which should become more viable with Magic Origins. Other than that, the only real question you have to ask yourself is whether Deathmist Raptor is good this weekend or not. Right now my guess is that it’s worth the slots, but that will change whenever more people decide to jump on the Devotion bandwagon.

I guess there is a necessity to talk about why I didn’t include any of the other new cards that are potentially good enough for the deck.

Initially I thought this card was going to be good enough for Devotion. My mindset was based on the fact that Languish existed and having cards that replace themselves while developing my mana would be good. Nissa, Vastwood Seer sure could be a great complement to this deck against U/B Control, but it’s likely to underperform in every other matchup.

It’s too slow against the mirror, too low-impact against Abzan Aggro, and is yet another thing that dies to Wild Slash against red decks. It just isn’t powerful enough for a deck trying to get to seven mana, not seven lands.

Woodland Bellower is going to be a powerhouse. This card is going to be so unbelievably good… it just has to wait until Genesis Hydra takes a vacation. You can make an argument for why this card deserves a slot in the deck, but it wouldn’t be stronger than the fact that it isn’t as good as the Hydra. Being able to tap out and get something onto the battlefield through countermagic is important, as is finding additional copies of cards like Ugin, the Spirit Dragon or Dragonlord Atarka. This card is great, but there are other options that are currently better.

This is a card I have waffled on for some time now. If it did make the cut, I would probably just play one or two copies. The only reason why I haven’t put any in my deck is because it doesn’t ramp you on the turns you want to be ramped. With a single mana accelerant, it gets you to six mana when that doesn’t matter. I would only play this card if I needed to get to five and all of my mana accelerants’ lives were at risk and Nissa, Vastwood Seer wasn’t legal since it does that better against removal-heavy decks.

The only thing I am unsure of for this deck is if Nylea’s Disciple is better than Seismic Rupture. Goblin Piledriver might end up being good, but what isn’t up in the air is that people will try it. Mono-Red or Atarka Goblins will be a thing right out of the gates. It doesn’t matter if it ends up being good or not, people will want to find out. With that in mind, more mass removal might be in order due to this little fella.

How do I ask questions later if they are always dead?

Subterranean Scout is going to allow Goblin Piledriver to deal ample amounts of damage uncontested against a deck like G/R Devotion. Maybe a stream of lifegain and bodies is enough to mitigate that, but I’m not sold. To be fair, that isn’t much to worry about since we have plenty of time to figure that out. You know, since playing an existing archetype right out of the gates makes it easier.

The only deck that I think truly shines with the inclusion of Magic Origins is U/B Control. Adrian Sullivan has kept this deck alive for the longest time, but not many others have picked up his banner during the fight. Personally I played this deck in preparation for many events only to eventually not be able to pull the trigger. I actually spent most of my time testing for GP Toronto and the Season Two Invitational with his deck. I just didn’t have faith.

Well, that changes now. I don’t know what the deck will look like moving forward, but I do think it is poised to be viable. This is what I have right now:

As you can see, this list is very similar to what he played in Providence a couple weeks ago. The only major difference is the addition of Clash of Wills, Languish, and a slight change in the manabase to support these spells since there is now a greater need for untapped lands. One subtle thing that control players might have picked up on while reviewing the list is the exclusion of Mage-Ring Network.

This land is decent, but not what this deck is looking for. Charge-lands were amazing back in Time Spiral, as they pretty much decided the control mirrors. The only major difference between those lands and Mage-Ring Network is that they produced colored mana. Colorless mana just isn’t as powerful as colored mana. Sure, this land could potentially help with Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Perilous Vault, but rarely does U/B Control have time to charge up a land. It is usually spending all of its mana trying to keep Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver or themselves alive.

Mage-Ring Network just doesn’t do the right things even though it looks like it could. I would much rather play as many Radiant Fountains as possible since that card is known to win games. It can keep you out of Siege Rhino range, take an additional hit when setting up Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, or just negate a burn spell in the late game. The card deserves a slot just like any other in the deck. It might look like a luxury, but it is anything but.

I will say that this 75 isn’t tournament-ready. I don’t know what the format is going to look like as of right now and don’t feel comfortable sending you to battle with a control deck that hasn’t been extensively tested.

What I want you to get out of this article is not that I don’t like fun or innovation. My philosophy on new cards is to explore them until you know the answers. Without exploration, Team Revolution would not have found Rabble Red last year. There is without a doubt something from this set that will help define the format. It’s just going to be difficult to figure out while Dragonlord Atarka is crashing down on turn four uncontested.

Eight-set Standard is all about interaction. The cards are so powerful that it’s in everyone’s best interests to be trying to disrupt each other as much as possible. This new set looks amazing, but you have to keep in mind that the format doesn’t have much wiggle room. You have to either be doing something more powerful than everyone else or having enough answers to stop them from deploying mythic Dragons eager to put a dent in your head.

I don’t want you to stop exploring or trying new things, but just know that it is vital to your tournament success to pull back the reins when the tournament draws near. Make sure you are prepared for what will undoubtedly show up. I’m not just saying this because I found some broken deck thanks to Magic Origins; I will be ramping into Dragonlord Atarka at the Open Series in Chicago just like any other realist out there. I want to win with whatever allows me to win. It just so happens that one of my favorite decks allows me to do that!