The Gangreene Gang Revisted!

Todd’s weekend began with misfortune, but it ended with some sweet takeaways about an exciting new archetype. See his report and what he would change about his new trademark deck before #SCGKC!

This past weekend was a roller coaster in Baltimore, both emotionally and in the tournament itself. The weekend began after Kali got off work at 6 p.m. on Friday, and we got on the road after a quick dinner. It was just the two of us on the drive up which was refreshing. Long car rides listening to old, bad music, talking about anything and everything; it was relaxing and fun. I get to spend a lot of time with my wife, but we rarely get to go on these trips together since she has mostly stopped playing Magic in favor of running the events or judging.

It wasn’t a long trip compared to most Magic events I go to. The drive to Baltimore is only four hours or so and primarily interstate, so we were able to get into Baltimore just before midnight. But upon entering the city, we got turned around somewhere due to the excess of one-way streets but eventually, we got within striking distance of our hotel. One block away, we were stopped at a red light where we were promptly rear-ended by an SUV.

Not badly, mind you. It was a gentle nudge as far as most of these things go, but Kali put the car in park, got incredibly flustered, and I told her I would handle it. I got out of the car, and the driver of the SUV was…not even paying attention to me or what had happened. He was, for all I could tell, looking straight ahead blankly. He didn’t even notice me when I stepped out of the car nor did he seem to know that he had actually hit us.

“Hey man, what are you doing!?”

He looked at me when I started calling to him. A look of disdain and fear swept across his face. In his altered state, he then realized what had happened and put his car in reverse. By this time, Kali had gotten out of the car, but I knew something was wrong. I told her to get back in the car because the other driver did not seem coherent. I told her to call the cops.

At that moment, after backing up an odd four feet or so, the other driver put his car into drive and tried to drive off, but instead smashed into the back of our car again. Since we were in park, he began to push our car into the adjacent lane, towards Kali. At this point, she’s screaming, and I just froze. I had no idea what to do. What could I do?

As his SUV turned our car, it was let free to an extent. He curved around our car towards the driver’s side and attempted to speed off. A hit and run. But I am cowering in fear that he’s going to run my wife over. Kali. The only person on earth I could never live without. And here I am, unable to move, or speak, or breathe.

As he pulls his SUV into the next lane, he narrowly misses Kali by just a few feet, and all of the cars and bystanders near us are just in shock. What just happened?

To tell you the truth, I don’t even know what happened. Someone who was drunk or high just hit our car twice and almost ran my wife over on the street. It was a lovely welcome back to Baltimore, and one that I won’t forget for a long time to come.

We waited for about five minutes for the cops to show up. Luckily, Kali was level-headed enough to get the license plate of the offender, though she was shaking all the while. I tried my best to comfort her, but I was just as scared as she was. How are you supposed to be the strong one in this situation? Everything I know and love was nearly snuffed out right in front of me, all because some guy didn’t want to get a traffic violation, or possibly a DUI. I was in shock.

We told the police exactly what had happened, gave them the license plate of the SUV, and made our way to the hotel. I’m not sure if they ever caught the guy, but they apparently have cameras at most intersections in the city, so I am hopeful. He deserves to go to jail after that stunt. We eventually calmed down and got to bed around 2 a.m., ready for work.

The next morning, a part of me just wanted to revert to Mono-Black Devotion. Brad had been harping on the deck for days now, saying how good Sign in Blood was and how Urborg made your Mutavaults so much better. I was in agreement, but I have not had great results with Black Devotion over the last few months, and playing it again when a new set just came out is not something I want to do. I just wanted to have some fun.

So I sleeved this up.

I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I am a fiend for Mono Green right before Pro Tours. There is just something about using all of my unhinged Forests that tickles me. But mostly, I just wanted to try something new. I know that Burning-Tree Emissary into Voyaging Satyr and Nykthos is not exactly new, but a lot of the cards in the deck are not what we are used to seeing. Thanks to the inclusion of M15, I had a lot of new tools at my disposal. I will admit, this is a rough draft of what I want to play at the Pro Tour, assuming I can get some of the bad matchups to work out, but that doesn’t mean I’m locked in. At this point, I still have two weeks to put something sweet together, and I have a lot of testing to do. Still, trial-by-fire testing is always my favorite form, and I was not disappointed by the results.

The Nitty-Gritty

Let me begin by saying that Nissa is my boo. We go way back, all the way to Nissa Revane and Nissa’s Chosen. I am surprised that I have never gotten alters to Nissa’s Chosen with my face on them. Back when Eldrazi Monument was a thing, I played a bit of Mono Green, and even Top 8-ed a StarCityGames.com Standard Open (that Kali ended up winning, with the same deck). The deck was awesome almost entirely thanks to Nissa Revane.

I am here to say that this version of Nissa is possibly better.

No, you can’t gain a million life with this Nissa. You also don’t get to play Oran-Rief, the Vastwood. But what you do get is a planeswalker than can easily win the game by itself, as well as Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx to do some dirty, dirty things. While Nissa doesn’t get to untap Nykthos, that isn’t at all necessary. With the ability to untap lands when she comes into play, you almost get to cast her for free. And if you get to take an untap with her in play, making gigantic Genesis Hydras or playing and using the monstrous on Polukranos is easy. And when your opponent keeps killing your other creatures, you can just turn your excess lands into 4/4 trampling elementals!

Did I mention they were colorless? (lol @ Brave the Elements and Ultimate Price)

One strong comparison, for reference:


Like Koth, Nissa can make mana or 4/4 creatures with “virtual” haste. She doesn’t untap them like Koth, but they also stick around after the turn is over. Koth was a huge boon to aggressive red decks while also giving you a sort of inevitability if they weren’t able to deal with it. In this regard, Nissa is similar. Unlike Koth, both of Nissa’s abilities are +1, making her continuously harder and harder to deal with. Both reward you for playing a lot of the same basic land, but having the ability to make something like Darksteel Citadel into a 4/4 indestructible creature is pretty absurd.

In my previous iterations of the deck, I did play one copy of Darksteel Citadel. At the time, I thought it might be important to have a creature that can survive Supreme Verdict. However, the restrictive costs in your deck make playing a fifth land that doesn’t tap for green a bit unappetizing. In hindsight, I don’t think it hurts you all that much and probably deserves a singleton slot, but it isn’t all that relevant.

There are a lot of cards in this deck that deserve a mention and a reasoning behind why I’m playing this number of them. First up:

This is a much different version of Mono Green Devotion. In previous forms, the deck had zero non-land, non-creature spells other than Garruk, making his ability to dig for creatures absurdly powerful and often netting you three or more creatures. In this iteration, we have both Nissa and Chord of Calling as blanks to hit, making Garruk a bit worse. He is still incredibly powerful and one of your best ways to fight an opponent hellbent on killing all of your creatures, but he is expensive. I wanted a solid top-end card that could generate card advantage against those decks, but I also wanted to lower my curve. This meant trimming on Garruk, and I am convinced that two is the right number.

A lot of people kept telling me that they thought four copies of Chord of Calling was too many. I disagree. I think that a lot of people forget the fact that using Chord of Calling as a pseudo Rampant Growth is awesome. I probably searched up Elvish Mystic more than any other card, though that was usually when they were killing my early creatures, and I needed an extra mana source to cast Garruk, Nissa, or something else.

I know that some of your best creatures are not something you can Chord for, or Chord for very easily, but being able to play one Nylea without flooding your deck with them or just having access to more virtual copies of Polukranos is amazing. I can’t tell you how many times I used Chord of Calling to get Polukranos at the end of my opponent’s turn, only to untap and kill their entire board. The fact that Chord just gets better as your engine starts running makes it an auto-include as a four-of.

I understand the ramifications of playing a card that is so virtually expensive, but I also get to play a lot of high-impact one-of cards that get to take advantage of specific situations. While most of those bullets are in my sideboard, the consistency that Chord of Calling gives you is too good not to play the maximum number.

As I said earlier, I wanted to lower my curve from the original list. I considered playing fewer lands and playing Sylvan Caryatid, but I wanted my Nissa, Worldwaker to be the best it could be. That meant sticking to one color. That also meant playing more lands. 25 seems like a lot, but it really isn’t when you’re able to consistently hit lands from Courser of Kruphix and keep turning them into 4/4s. This version of the deck opts for a higher land count in anticipation of Supreme Verdict, where Sylvan Caryatid just lets you run headlong into getting obliterated, even more than you already do, by the sweeper.

Scavenging Ooze was a concession to needing a cheap creature that you could Chord of Calling for against decks that had a lot of removal. If they kill your first two creatures, putting a Scavenging Ooze into play can put them under a significant clock. Naturally drawing one alongside Burning-Tree Emissary isn’t all that bad, either.

If I had to go back and play the tournament over again, I might split off and play one copy of Scavenging Ooze and one Skylasher, as the Mono Blue Devotion matchup seemed a bit tricky. Having a way to stall their early threats while you built up your resources is great, and I felt like I didn’t have enough early Chord of Calling targets that were relevant in the matchup. In the end, Scavenging Ooze was solid, but in most matchups it ended up being a glorified Grizzly Bears.

If I had to do it all over again, I would play a second copy of Hornet Queen. It was stellar in nearly every matchup, and I was ecstatic to actually draw it instead of having to Chord of Calling for it. It adds three points of devotion while making enough creatures (that fly!) to stall out your opponent’s entire board and even makes enough creatures so that it is nearly a freeroll when you have a Chord of Calling! Things can get out of hand in a hurry when Hornet Queen is around.

Hornet Queen costs seven mana for a good reason. It is not exactly fair in a matchup based on combat, but it does have its weaknesses. It doesn’t really save you from Stormbreath Dragon thanks to Mizzium Mortars being a commonly played card alongside it. It doesn’t get around Thassa. It doesn’t even really get around Nylea in the mirror. But it does stop Pack Rat and Desecration Demon in their tracks, and will almost always be left alone. You have far too many creatures in the early game that require a removal spell, so Hornet Queen’s tokens getting hit by a Bile Blight isn’t something you should really be worried about (unless they peel it off the top).

After sideboard, I would expect to see more copies of Drown in Sorrow than I did in Baltimore, but that’s mostly because it is a necessary evil for black decks to fight this type of strategy. Without it, I am able to easily overwhelm their one-for-one removal spells, which was evident by my 4-0, 8-0 in games performance against the archetype.

I know. I know. This card is probably too cute to warrant a slot, even in a Chord of Calling deck. I’m still not even sure if it is good or not, but I wanted to try it. When I was able to Chord of Calling for it against a black deck, it was superb. I was able to pressure my opponent to the point where they were having to chump block it every other turn, and their removal (and mana) were overloaded. I didn’t have to commit any more threats to the board to eventually take over the game!

In retrospect, this slot could have been better utilized, but I don’t think the card is bad. A lot of people thought it was mediocre when I tweeted about it, but it is certainly fine. It is not “unbeatable” by any means, but it certainly causes problems for black-based decks.

Wants and Needs

It is no surprise that this deck is lacking against Supreme Verdict. Green-based creature decks have generally been an underdog to Wrath of God, and this one is no exception. For the most part, this deck is just trying to flood the board. If Esper or U/W Control make huge waves the week before an event, I would not want to be the guy playing Burning-Tree Emissary. You will get destroyed by it.

However, there are things we can do to mitigate the problem. Splashing a color is the obvious answer, but which color do you want to splash? Black gives you access to a few things.

Since Black gives you a full twelve dual lands with a Llanowar Wastes reprint, it is a frontrunner for a splash. The versatility of Golgari Charm should not be undervalued, as the ability to sweep the board against a Boss Sligh deck is awesome. There are also a ton of enchantments in the format just waiting to get blown up, but the main draw is regenerating your team against a Supreme Verdict.

Thoughtseize and Stain the Mind are also pretty sweet, but I’m not sure Thoughtseize is what this deck wants to be doing. Yes, you can take their Supreme Verdict, but it is so easy for them to dig for another via Temples or Divination or whatever that you need to make sure you don’t lose to one down the line. This is why I think Stain the Mind is actually just awesome for the deck.

Stain the Mind, or Cranial Extraction #204, is strong in this type of shell because you can actually put the convoke ability to good use. Creature-based strategies that have access to black mana will make this card look phenomenal, stripping the control opponent’s major way to interact with you. Stain the Mind taking their Supreme Verdict will ultimately result in their inability to keep up with anything that you are doing.

Of course, they still have Sphinx’s Revelation, Elspeth, Dissolve, and a million other ways to interact with you, but 86’ing their main form of disruption is superb.

As for Pharika, God of Affliction, I’m not sure if you can support having a copy in your deck unless you also play Eidolon of Blossoms. That combination is a home-run for sure, but I would want to drastically change the heart of the deck in order to support this splash. At the moment, the current state of the Green Devotion deck focuses on consistency rather than brute force, where the Eidolon of Blossoms engine/package would lean heavily on playing more enchantments to keep the engine running. The sacrifices you would have to make to turn it into a working product would make it into something entirely different than it was before. I am not opposed to that idea, but that’s a different article for a different deck.

As for splashing blue in the deck, you gain access to some sweet ones:

As with the black splash, you get access to twelve dual lands, which is a great benefit. Cyclonic Rift has natural applications in Nykthos-based strategies which we’ve seen out of Blue Devotion for a long time. Having the ability to Upheaval our opponent’s side of the board is insane, but the card is pretty narrow outside of that use. I have played with a blue splash in Green Devotion before, and Cyclonic Rift is a high variance card. Drawing multiple copies is pretty awkward, so playing two copies would be the most that I would want.

On the other hand, Kiora seems insane in the deck. Letting you do sweet Courser of Kruphix tricks while also ramping naturally into your other Planeswalkers or gigantic monsters is awesome, and drawing cards is a boon against control decks or people trying to one-for-one you to death. Additionally, the ability to protect yourself from an opposing threat is great. If I were to play blue, Kiora would be the major reason to do so. Planeswalkers are fantastic in decks that can protect them, and you have Courser of Kruphix and Burning-Tree Emissary to do just that.

Prophet of Kruphix seems like a lot of fun, but is probably just a win-more type of card. Brad Nelson played it one a VS video against BBD just a few weeks ago, and it looked pretty sweet, making your Chord of Calling draws much stronger, but I’m not sold on it being necessary. I do like the fact that you can Chord of Calling for Aetherling pretty early in the game and protect it, though.

Prime Speaker Zegana is a major draw for splashing blue, giving you a way to refuel after you have gone back and forth with your opponent trading resources. Chord of Calling seems to make this much more appealing, as I don’t want to play too many copies, but I would love nothing more than to draw six plus cards from having a Polukranos or big Genesis Hydra in play. The downside is that most of your creatures are pretty small, meaning you will most-likely be drawing three cards or so from your Zegana, assuming they can kill your biggest creature in response.

I’m still not sure what I’m going to be playing at the Pro Tour, but what I do know is that all forms of Green Devotion are a ton of fun. Whatever version you want to play, just know that you do have some weaknesses, but you get to do some crazy stuff. Chord of Calling and Nissa, Worldwaker are both amazing, and Genesis Hydra is no slouch. Don’t be afraid to cast Genesis Hydra for 2-4, so long as you have a good reason. Courser of Kruphix allows you to see the top of your deck quite often, and being able to get a shuffle effect to hit a land, or just increase your devotion for Nykthos is important. All of your X effects have multiple modes, and knowing when to pull the trigger on them is key.

That’s all for this week. Next week I’ll be in Portland testing for the Pro Tour, but I have a Modern PTQ this weekend which I will most likely be writing about. My current deck of choice is TarmoTwin, and I’ll be looking to Patrick Dickman for help. Wish me luck!