I played in the WMCQ in Oakland this weekend, though it wasn’t a notable performance. I played Mono-Blue Devotion, and I lost my first three rounds. I
decided to play it out, won my next four, and lost the last round. All in all, a weak showing, but there’s always a lot to be learned at a Magic
It would be a lie to say I felt confident in my deck choice–Friday night I was saying there was no way I was going to win the tournament, but the fact
that a handful of other good players (Josh McClain, Sam Pardee, and Nathan Holiday in particular) were playing Mono-Blue Devotion made me feel like it
probably wasn’t an unreasonable decision. Unfortunately, I knew that another group of players with two byes (Tom Martell, Eric Froelich, and William
Jensen) were playing U/W Control, and I didn’t expect to beat many of them. The fact that these two decks were popular among pros in attendance made me
want to play my W/B deck from the Pro Tour again,
but it was clear from watching the trials on Friday that there would be too many Courser of Kruphix decks in the tournament for that to be a good choice.
I started the day by losing to three different archetypes that I was theoretically favored against: G/W Aggro, Rabble Red, and Mono-Black Aggro, then I
beat my “worst matchup” U/W Control. At this point, the lesson was pretty clear to me.
Mono-Blue Devotion was a great choice because it had great matchups against a large portion of the field. Now, those decks that it preyed on are still
around, and it often has a good matchup against them, but instead of winning 65% of the time or more, it wins 52-55% of the time. All the other decks have
just gotten better; not necessarily better in ways that specifically attack Blue, but the decks are all a little more powerful, while Blue’s gained
nothing, and their power level has just caught up. Additionally, everyone’s making card choices that are informed by Blue being a deck. In the first round,
my G/W Aggro opponent had enough maindeck Skylashers that he drew two in our first game.
Red aggro has been a good matchup for Blue–you have Frostburn Weird, which is hard for them to kill and beats all their creatures in combat, and two
maindeck anti-red cards in Tidebinder Mage and Master of Waves. Additionally, Jace has a devastating effect on the power of their creatures. Despite this,
the matchup doesn’t feel that good. It’s easy for them to come out ahead of you and kill your first couple creatures. Blocking is a weak plan against them
in general because of Rubblebelt Maaka, Firefist Striker, and Legion Loyalist. Legion Loyalist in particular is incredible against Master of Waves, letting
you ignore all the tokens and trample over the Master. I would still probably rather be on the Blue side of the matchup, but it’s much closer than I’d
like, and I just have to admit that it’s another scary matchup.
G/W Aggro will have some number of Skylashers, which has always been a problem, but it can be beaten, particularly with Master of Waves overwhelming it,
but now it might not even be their best card. Setessan Tactics is almost always completely devastating, and basically forces you to have a counterspell
(Negate or Dispel) in your deck in a matchup where that’s really not what you want, and even then, if they’re not too greedy with it, they can usually find
windows to kill a creature or two while you’re tapped out. Even the simple addition of Banishing Light has made the matchup significantly harder.
Is all of this to say Mono-Blue Devotion is a bad choice going forward? Kind of…
Mono-Blue Devotion isn’t what it used to be (or rather, it is, exactly what it used to be, but it’s not positioned how it used to be), but the
other main takeaway from the weekend is that Red decks need to be respected, and Stoke the Flames in particular is the real deal. I don’t know the results
of very many WMCQs (I haven’t found a compilation of winners just yet), but I do know that Red (either Burn or Rabble) won in the United States, Japan, and
Sweden. Moving forward, I think deck choices need to be made that consider Red among the most important decks to beat, maybe even the most important, and
while playing Mono-Blue Devotion won’t give you a bye in the matchup, it still may be among the decks that give you the best chance.
In the past, when Burn was on the rise due to claims that it had a good Mono-Black Devotion matchup, I think those claims were overstated, and Black
adjusted to beat those decks. Now that those decks are better, it might not be possible for Black to do that, but I think it will be interesting to see if
Mono-Black Devotion continues to fall out of the metagame, or if it can beat Red if it adjusts to include more Pharika’s Cures and Drown in Sorrows and
whether that helps enough.
It’s worth noting that between Scavenging Ooze, Courser of Kruphix, and Nylea’s Disciple, Green should really have the tools to beat Red, but it’s not
clear what the best shell to do that actually looks like. If Mono-Black Devotion drops off and Lifebane Zombie stops being a serious concern, we might see
a rise of Mono-Green Devotion (possibly with a red or other splash), especially with a lot of planeswalkers to beat control.
An interesting deck was pointed out to me on Facebook from the WMCQ in Brazil, played to a semifinals finish after an undeated run in the swiss by Túlio
- 1 Scavenging Ooze
- 1 Izzet Staticaster
- 4 Young Pyromancer
- 1 Polukranos, World Eater
- 1 Purphoros, God of the Forge
- 3 Courser of Kruphix
- 1 Keranos, God of Storms
- 1 Reclamation Sage
- 4 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 1 Hornet Nest
- 1 Scuttling Doom Engine
This deck uses removal to allow Young Pyromancer or Goblin Rabblemaster to function as engines to generate tokens. Chord of Calling and Stoke the Flames
are instants with convoke, which allow you to tap Goblin tokens that would otherwise have to kill themselves at the beginning of combat to do something
useful and allow you to accumulate them. These accumulated tokens let you cast Chord of Calling for a wide toolbelt of creatures, possibly headlined by
Purphoros, God the Forge, which turns your token generation into damage and combines with your burn to kill an opponent quickly, or at least, reliably in a
way that is hard to disrupt. The fact that you only have to play one Purphoros to consistently have access to it helps avoid getting punished by the legend
rule or Deicide, and Keranos, God of Storms offers a similarly resilient threat that is particularly difficult for the U/W Control decks modeled after Ivan
Floch’s that lack Detention Spheres to deal with.
I really like some of the other card choices–Izzet Staticaster is awesome against opposing Goblin Rabblemaster decks, and Turn//Burn is great with Goblin
Rabblemaster as Goblin Rabblemaster means your opponent’s creatures will consistently get into combat, where Turn can easily kill them. Turn is also a
great answer to Master of Waves out of a color combination that can often have trouble with it.
Túlio’s decision that makes the least sense to me is only having Xenagos, the Reveler in the sideboard. It seems like a perfect additional token maker that
also offers another way to take advantage of the tokens you already have. The best reason not to play it is that this deck doesn’t really have much to let
it take advantage of huge amounts of mana as Chord of Calling tops out at X=6, and there are no Mizzium Mortars to overload. I suspect I would want to
change these things. Hornet Nest is great with Chord of Calling, and very strong with this deck’s gameplan, but I’m still not sure it’s good enough to draw
in enough matchups to play it main, and siding up to two doesn’t make any sense to me. I think I would leave one in the sideboard but cut the Hornet Nest
in the maindeck for a Hornet Queen, which does ten damage off the top with Purphoros, God of the Forge, and I would want to cut Izzet Charm and a Magma
Spray for two Mizzium Mortars. That leaves an open question about how many Xenagos, the Revelers to play and how to make room for them. Without having
played the deck, I’m not sure if it’s better to cut creatures or spells, but I’d be looking at Lightning Strike, Scavenging Ooze, a land, and Scuttling
Doom Engine as potential cuts.
As for the sideboard, I’m skeptical of three Dispel, zero Negate, and there are some of the one-ofs that I might want to go up to two of sometimes, but I
don’t think having the ability to is the best use of space, like Scavenging Ooze and Hornet Nest. I like Phyrexian Revoker as a bullet in theory, but I’m
not actually sure that it does what you want–it’s best at turning off planeswalkers, but most of those decks are going to have Supreme Verdict or Golgari
Charm, and it’s low impact and a bit of a liability. I suspect it’s worse than Pithing Needle even though you can Chord of Calling for it, and I have no
idea if Pithing Needle is really what this deck is looking for.
Still, this is one of the cooler new decks I’ve seen in a while that uses several new, powerful cards in a coherent way (Chord of Calling, Stoke the
Flames, Goblin Rabblemaster) that also allows them to take advantage of older sweet cards that haven’t had a home like this (Young Pyromancer, Turn//Burn,
Purphoros, God of the Forge, Keranos, God of Storms). The deck also has a lot of room to grow through tuning. (Now that I think about it, three Stoke the
Flames instead of four makes very little sense to me–I’m pretty sure it’s the best burn spell here.) I’m also just excited about any deck that uses
convoke well. Incidentally, another card to consider here is Burning-Tree Emissary, just because this deck is the right colors and it taps for colored mana
for Chord of Calling or Stoke the Flames, fits the aggressive swarming plan, casts Young Pyromancer, burn spells, and Scavenging Ooze, and it’s just
another powerful card.
Another direction that I’ve been curious about is going a little bigger with G/W Aggro. I like how G/W Aggro is positioned in that playing big creatures
seems like a solid plan against Red, but I’d kind of like to play Courser of Kruphix, which doesn’t make a lot of sense in the deck as it is now. I’ve also
been impressed by Archangel of Thune, which is amazing against Mono-Blue (which is something G/W Aggro is looking for) and probably good against Red.
Basically, I’ve found Courser of Kruphix and Archangel of Thune to be two of the best cards against Mono-Blue Devotion, and I have to imagine that both are
great against Red, so it might make sense to play them in G/W Aggro if those end up being some of the more popular decks. Nyx-Fleece Ram would be another
idea card for the sideboard of this deck, leading to a great Red matchup. The question is where this leaves you in other matchups, as slowing yourself down
in this way will help against smaller (more aggressive) decks, but it’ll hurt when you were winning by being the aggressor (Black, U/W Control), though it
may be possible to build the deck such that after sideboarding it looks very similar to how it looks now.
I’m confident the format is in a state of flux at the moment that’s certainly exploitable. I know that a lot of pros are frustrated by the format because
it’s hard to beat and potentially hard to get a big advantage in just through playskill. Remarkably, almost all the players in the US WMCQ with two byes
were eliminated very quickly, but I’m not ready to give up hope on the format. I’m looking forward to testing a lot of brews on Magic Online over the next
few weeks as I prepare for the next two WMCQs.