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Decknology: Brewing Modern Devotion

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern

After a bit of a hiatus, I am back and pumped for the Modern PTQ season. Modern has really grown as a format, and I have enjoyed getting to play it more often. Even Star City Games has gotten in on the action by adding Modern events to run in conjunction with their Legacy opens. Despite this, Modern seems to be in an odd place. Not many people (outside of resident maniac Travis Woo) are actively looking to brew new decks. Most are content to run some variation of standard lists. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; there are a large amount of viable decks in Modern. Yet, I know we can go further with the giant card pool available to us. To that end, let me show you what I have been pursuing.

The notion that Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx is abusable is old news. Beyond the smattering of devotion builds in Standard, Modern already has a couple of decks that revolve around the legendary land. While there have been black versions going all in on Phyrexian Obliterator, the most successful/popular builds have been the green combo versions. Here is an example list:

This list focuses on the big mana granted by Nykthos and all of the land enchantments. You also get value creatures like Wistful Selkie with a whopping three devotion and fan favorite Eternal Witness. The deck is able to attack on multiple angles, which is key in Modern. The deck can attack and hammer in with the team, sometimes backed with Craterhoof Behemoth. The deck can use Kessig Wolf Run to send one creature in for lethal. The deck can also lock opponents out of the game with the Eternal Witness and Primal Command combo. Like all devotion lists, the deck can be a bit frail and susceptible to removal, but I really like how this deck attacks the format.

With this in mind I wanted to see what other colors lent themselves well to this style of deck building. Blue has done well for itself in Standard, but the overall power level of the cards in that deck are laughably low for Modern. White certainly could present an aggressive devotion strategy, but suffers from lack of reach or dump for the mana that Nykthos can create. Add this to my own preference for lighting things on fire, and well, that leads us to red devotion. Let me go ahead and give you my current list, and then I will offer up thoughts on each slot.

Let me start off by saying that this deck can do some crazy things. It utilizes a basic aggressive shell, but it has the ability to produce a devastating amount of mana. Besides, who doesn’t want to cast Bonfire of the Damned? This list may still not be definitive, so let me break down the options and considerations at the major drop points.

The Creatures:

We start with the permanents that actually add devotion. I spent a lot of time scouring gatherer to find the right mix of creatures that add power, devotion, and efficiency. Our one drops are Goblin Guide and Figure of Destiny. One drops are in an odd position in devotion builds, and it should be noted that the Standard version of red devotion runs none. If they had access to these two creatures though, I bet they might. Goblin Guide is the best of what a single red mana has to offer. There will be draws without Nykthos, and we need to ensure that our plan B of attacking as an aggressive red deck is viable. Guide does this. Figure of Destiny on the other hand is a bit different. As a one drop, it leaves a bit to be desired, however, we need powerful mana sinks to dump all that extra red goodness into. This deck is able to turn Figure into the 8/8 it was always destined to be (destined, get it?…you do).

The two drops are really the meat and potatoes of this build. My initial workings with this deck had me decidedly frustrated with Burning-Tree Emissary. The card obviously does a lot of the things that we want (adding devotion, free Nykthos activation), but it had no synergy with the other two drops. I walked away from this list for a long time, and then a person in the Columbus Magic community mentioned tinkering with a similar idea. He had a number of one-ofs in his list including Manamorphose. BOOM! This is the card that brought me immediately back into this deck. Manamorphose allows you to fix those Burning-Tree Emissary draws while not losing a card. It also allows you to cast your Boggart Ram-Gangs if you are stuck with two Mountains and a Nykthos. Manamorphose fixes a lot of the issues this deck was presenting. Our other two drops aren’t slouches either. If you aren’t familiar with Kargan Dragonlord, then I will take a minute for you to read it. Go ahead, I’ll wait…..done? Insane right? It adds two devotion while also being bonkers with Nykthos, and 8/8s with flying, trample, and firebreathing that attack on turn four seem fine. Rounding out our two slot is the newcomer, Eidolon of the Great Revel. Before I was running Ash Zealot, but despite it’s built in anti-Snapcaster Mage ability, it isn’t as good as the Eidolon. This Pyrostatic Pillar on wheels has the ability to hose a number of decks incidentally all while providing those little red symbols we so desperately crave.

Finishing up the creature suite are Boggart Ram-Gang and Boartusk Liege. These drops were probably the toughest decision. There weren’t a ton of options at the three drop slot, but Boros Reckoner and Zo-Zu the Punisher were at least interesting. Reckoner is still good, and wins creature combat against most of the drops in Modern. Zo-Zu is interesting because its ability flat-out crushed Scapeshift; however that deck runs Lightning Bolt and Izzet Charm. After a fair amount of testing, I am currently opting for the Ram-Gang. It gets the nod due to haste (refer back to the reasoning behind Goblin Guide) and its synergy with Boartusk Liege. Wither is also pretty good at knocking out opposing Kitchen Finks without a bunch of messy persist triggers. This leads us to Boartusk Liege. The obvious option if we are playing a four drop is Fanatic of Mogis. Unfortunately, the removal in modern can leave it so you are relying on one or two creatures in many games. This makes Kargan Dragonlord and Figure so dangerous; however, it also makes Fanatic fairly average. The games where it hits for 6 or more are probably the games that you are winning anyways. Liege on the other hand, pumps Emissaries and Ram-Gangs while also adding three more devotion to Nykthos.

The Spells:

The focus of the deck is the permanents that add to our devotion count, so the spells in this deck have to be relevant. We start with one of the building blocks of Modern, Lightning Bolt. The spell really is ubiquitous and is an auto-include. We also have the already mentioned Manamorphose. The card may seem innocuous and low impact, but the ability to fix our Burning-Tree and Nykthos heavy draws is deceptive in its power. We could explore other options here, including more removal, but I would strongly suggest testing it as is first before dismissing it. Lastly we come to Bonfire of the Damned. Trust me when I say that this card is still as good as it was in Standard. This deck’s ability to power out a ton of early mana can lead to some incredible blowouts. I’ll wager that the first time you miracle Bonfire of the Damned and then activate your Nykthos for six or more, you will be as hooked as I am.

The Sideboard:

This is the biggest work in progress. The obvious highlight is that we can play all four copies of Blood Moon with little issue. The deck is built to be able to curve out and function without Nykthos, so disrupting the more greedy decks seems fine. Additionally, the green splash is essentially free, so we can play a bunch of Ancient Grudges to shore up the affinity matchup. Beyond this I wanted some cards to deal with the Splinter Twin decks, and the Relic of Progenitus are there because Tarmogoyf is still a very real card. You can of course tune the numbers and hate cards present to fit your expected meta.

So Why Exactly?

So I have detailed the idea behind the deck, so now we need to examine its place in the Modern metagame. What is this deck good against? First and foremost, the deck is very good against the Birthing Pod decks. These decks usually run very few removal spells, and are weak to the power of Nykthos draws. Additionally, Bonfire of the Damned is crushing against even their best draws. We also match up well against other aggressive decks because we again can freely overload the board. Affinity can be rough game one, but Ancient Grudge fixes it. Splinter Twin has been an interesting matchup because we force them to have the combo. Sometimes they do, and you lose. More often than not though, they do not have it on turn four. During those games you can pressure them enough to take the game. UWR control has been a tough matchup due to their massive amounts of removal, but luckily Blood Moon is a house against them. Resolve it and enjoy your free win.

Overall, this deck curves out consistently and has some nigh unbeatable nut draws. Much like the boss sligh deck in Standard, it will punish decks that stumble or fail to draw the right spell on turn two or three. This deck may not be the most broken thing to ever be suggested in Modern, sorry I am no Travis Woo, but I wouldn’t be writing about it if I didn’t feel the power was real. Hopefully, one of you can continue to work on it, and we can take down one of the PTQs this season with something a little under the radar.

Thanks for reading!

-Mike Keknee


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