Mono-Green Devotion: Back On Top Of Pioneer

What fueled Mono-Green Devotion’s resurgence in Pioneer? Patrick Chapin breaks down Michael Jacob’s Magic Online Championship-winning list and others.

Elder Gargaroth, illustrated by Nicholas Gregory

Despite Core Set 2021 dropping five months ago, the 2019 Magic Online Championship has finally concluded (2020 is weird, okay?), and the champion is none other than Darkest Mage himself, Michael Jacob, one of the most prolific online players in MTG history.

While MJ’s Modern Selesnya Company deck also very much deserves its own deep dive, today, I’d like to take a look at his Mono-Green Devotion deck, as well as a number of other Mono-Green Devotion decks that have done well recently.

Oath of Nissa

The unbanning of Oath of Nissa this past summer was already a big boon for Mono-Green Devotion, as it basically restored the archetype to highly competitive status. However, it was the following month’s bans of the four pillars of Pioneer combo decks the following months that really opened up a huge opportunity for Mono-Green Devotion.

Underworld Breach Inverter of Truth

Kethis, the Hidden Hand Walking Ballista

Mono-Green Devotion’s biggest weakness had been its relative lack of interaction, while also being slower than the “fast” combo decks of Pioneer. With the entire top tier of fast combo decks knocked down a peg, Mono-Green Devotion has risen in prominence, and MJ’s list is where I would start in the format for the current archetypal Mono-Green Devotion deck:

Oath of Nissa is a great card in its own right, of course, but it’s especially strong with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, both for adding devotion and for actually finding a Nykthos.

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

It’s also further increased incentive to lean into the strong package of planeswalkers currently available, which actually do a reasonable job of increasing the strategy’s flexibility, adding a lot of versatile ways to either generate advantages early, capitalize on advantages, or solve problems. 

Vivien, Arkbow Ranger

Vivien, Arkbow Ranger is a big source of devotion, sure, but it’s also a solid form of interaction from the fighting and accumulating advantage from the +1/+1 counters. Historically, devotion decks have been vulnerable to sweepers, given their reliance on having so many permanents to fuel their mana engine. However, when eleven of your permanents are planeswalkers and another eight are enchantments, it’s just night and day.

Nissa, Who Shakes the World

Nissa, Who Shakes the World serves the dual roles of being both a powerful “top-end” threat when it’s the biggest thing you’ve got and an unbelievable enabler for going even more over the top of people, even if you don’t have a Nykthos. 

Voracious Hydra

Sometimes this is just powering out a massive Voracious Hydra. Ideally, though, we’d like to use this huge mana advantage to make two amazing plays a turn, one that’s the best use of mana we have in our hand and the other adding another lock component or optimized threat from Karn, the Great Creator.

Karn, the Great Creator

Karn does so much in this deck, particularly with Oath of Nissa helping us find it more often, giving us reliable access to a wide array of tools for hard problems, as well as some extreme threats that let us attack from a lot of angles for a mono-green deck.

Tormod's Crypt Grafdigger's Cage

Pithing Needle Damping Sphere

Some of these are fairly common features of the format, while some are a little more specialized.

Orbs of Warding

While not played in every Mono-Green Devotion list, Orbs of Warding gives MJ a silver bullet against Boros Wizards (Lurrus), as well as a surprisingly flexible option for buying time to really get the mana engine firing on all cylinders.

Aligned Hedron Network

Aligned Hedron Network gives us a powerful tool against the biggest Eldrazi and the Escape Titans.

Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath

It’s also got its moments against Shark Typhoon; Kenrith, the Returned King; and opposing green fatties, to name a few.

God-Pharaoh's Statue

God-Pharaoh’s Statue is first and foremost a tool for capping the ability for other strategies to go big, whether control decks or more importantly combo decks. Adding two to the cost of every spell has a cumulative effect on strategies that aspire to set up a big turn.

Verdurous Gearhulk Skysovereign, Consul Flagship The Great Henge

Stonecoil Serpent Heart of Kiran

The Karn targets also include a diverse mix of threats, with multiple abilities, reduced exposure to various forms of interaction, and varying stages of the game where they excel, to best meet the needs of the current gamestate.

Elvish Mystic Llanowar Elves Burning-Tree Emissary

While every green devotion deck tends to start with this core of enablers, I’m a big fan of the specific “flex slot” selections MJ went with.

Wolfwillow Haven

Wolfwillow Haven will often cost just a single mana in this deck, and sometimes none at all when it’s powering up a Nykthos.

Llanowar Visionary

Llanowar Visionary smooths out draws, helping ramp you to the big threats, while also giving you something reasonable to do with your mana when you don’t actually have one of your big threats.

Elder Gargaroth

Elder Gargaroth was a metagame call that really helped move the needle on the common Boros Wizards matchup. While many Mono-Green Devotion decks don’t run them, I think it was a great call for the weekend, and it should continue to be a valuable option for as long as red-based aggro is as popular as it has been.

Hashep Oasis

Obviously just a minor role-player with a fairly low opportunity cost. I don’t think it’s the biggest deal whether you play the Oasis or not, but it is nice to speed your clock up by a turn in some spots for matchups where you’re both just trying to do your thing. The life loss doesn’t matter often, and both the Gargaroths and the Orbs help shore up those matchups anyway.

Lars Dam’s build of Mono-Green Devotion also featured Elder Gargaroth, but with Scavenging Ooze instead of Elvish Visionary to try to get even more edge against graveyard decks.

Scavenging Ooze

While I have a ton of respect for the graveyard cards right now, I’m concerned that Scavenging Ooze is kind of slow for interacting with the most important ones. Yeah, I realize that Karn into Crypt or Cage isn’t that fast, either. It’s just that when you do actually make one of those plays, it’s extremely high-impact. When you drop a Scavenging Ooze, it’s frequently going to not be able to hit everything you need if an Oops All Spells player flips their deck.

It’s also another way to gain edge against Boros Wizards, but especially going forward, I’d be concerned about it as a liability in the mirror, as well as just reducing the explosiveness of our draws.

Lars’s list features Shadowspear over Orbs of Warding, which is probably fine, but I’d still lean Orbs, personally.


It’s also got the amusing Pyxis of Pandemonium for an added dimension against Oops All Spells, letting you threaten to exile their Worldspine Wurm or Nexus of Fate when they “go for it.”

Pyxis of Pandemonium

I’d have to see it in action to know how frequently it adds enough alongside the Tormod’s Crypt and the Grafdigger’s Cage, but it’s at least interesting.

Wicked Wolf

The Wicked Wolf package seeks to improve our ability to “fight fair,” whether killing mana creatures, small red ones, or interacting with ability-driven creatures like Spirits. Again, I prefer MJ’s bigger toolbox, not wanting to disrupt the core engine by sideboarding in many cards very often.

Before we leave the Elder Gargaroth builds, I wanted to add in an interesting list from a recent Pioneer Challenge, featuring a few exotic card choices that might be worth keeping in mind.

Playing three extra five-drops at the expense of Wolfwillow Haven seems way too greedy to me, but if you have the room, Nissa, Vital Force is another solid on-theme green planeswalker.

Nissa, Vital Force

The extra Gargaroths seem dubious to me, as they have such diminishing returns, but I think I’m mainly just concerned about playing that many fives.

Voyaging Satyr

I get that Voyaging Satyr can untap Nykthos, but this list doesn’t even have Wolfwillow Haven as an additional way to make a land worth untapping. Even if it did, Voyaging Satyr is too expensive for a card to help make your good draws better.

Questing Beast Ashaya, Soul of the Wild

Maybe there are enough spots to warrant the transformation, but I’d still prefer to not disrupt the core engine by sideboarding in midrange threats.

Castle Garenbrig

Like Hashep Oasis, Castle Garenbrig isn’t the biggest deal one way or the other, but I’d lean against it, as the sixth mana just isn’t that valuable, especially when it needs to be spent on creatures. If you ever draw a Castle plus a Nykthos as your opening two lands, you’re kind of giving a turn away.

Meteor Golem Emrakul, the Promised End Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

While I prefer the Elder Gargaroth approach to Mono-Green Devotion in general, if you’re going to use Castle Garenbrig, Peter Daněk’s sideboard does get more mileage out of it, thanks to Meteor Golem and Emrakul, the Promised End as additional ways to go big, alongside the standard Ulamog.

Joseph Burket’s list was nearly identical, with two additional options for interaction out of the sideboard.

Pacification Array Ratchet Bomb

Neither does enough to interest me in the current metagame, but I could see them in the right spots. Generally, though, I think Aligned Hedron Network does enough of what you want out of Pacification Array, and the tandem of Pithing Needle and Orbs of Warding or Meteor Golem cover the majority of situations where Ratchet Bomb would be worth it.

While most of these lists share a lot of DNA, there is some wild experimentation going on by some. DMLK Top 8’ed a recent Pioneer Challenge with a build featuring a dense “green monsters” plan, rather than the planeswalker-centric approach we’ve been discussing.

Instead of the usual mix, we’ve got just one planeswalker here, and it’s Vivien, Monsters’ Advocate, really leaning into the “fair game” approach.

Vivien, Monsters' Advocate

Then, instead of the versatility and reliable advantages from the mainstream approach’s walkers, this list just brawls, with Steel Leaf Champion, Garruk’s Harbinger, and Rhonas the Indomitable for beefy “fair” threats.

Steel Leaf Champion Garruk's Harbinger Rhonas the Indomitable

In an effort to play up this beatdown angle, Gilded Goose and Turntimber Symbiosis get the nod over Oath of Nissa or Wolfwillow Haven.

Gilded Goose Turntimber Symbiosis

Gilded Goose obviously gives more looks at making a strong three-mana play on Turn 2, while the Symbiosis aspires to help provide more ways to “go big,” given how much of the big game was sacrificed by the removal of the planeswalkers.

I think the versatility MJ’s list affords, combined with the combination of powerful mana engine and durable “backup plan,” make me want to start there for any potential preparation with or against Mono-Green Devotion. While Mono-Green Devotion is clearly Tier 1, so are plenty of other decks and this isn’t the type of thing that suggests bans or anything like that. If you’re into this style of play, I’d definitely pick this deck up. It’s looking likely to be one of the pillars of the format for the foreseeable future.