Hey everyone! Welcome to my new column at Legit MTG! This is the first time I have written in a long time, and the first time I will be writing regularly. I am excited to share a bit of what I’ve learned over the years with you, and figured a great place to start would be with the Standard deck I have been tearing up the SCG Open series with over the last month: Green Red Devotion.
I would like to start by laying out a foundation of what this deck does and why it is put together the way it is. Being familiar with a deck’s fundamental game plan and card choices allows you to make informed changes to a deck instead of just tinkering blindly and hoping your changes are what the deck needs.
Red Green Devotion is a mana ramp deck at heart. It supports a full package of twelve mana creatures, and looks to enter the mid-game a turn before its opponent, and enter the late game one to two turns before the opponent. Devotion is loaded with hard to deal with threats and plays some of the most powerful cards in Standard all the way up its mana curve. Once it reaches its third tier of threats it looks to quickly put games away with Dragonlord Atarka, Genesis Hydra, or Polukranos’ Monstrous ability.
This is what I will be competing with this weekend at SCG Chicago
Rundown of card choices
This is the foundation on which Devotion operates. We are trying to get to the mid-game and the late game before our opponents, and this is how we are going to make that happen. I have been saying for a while now that Elvish Mystic is one of the best cards in Standard, and I don’t think its unreasonable to call it one of the pillars of the format. Removal in Standard these days is conditional and less efficient in general than in Standard formats of days past. In addition, the cards we are ramping into with Elvish Mystic are some of the most powerful green cards to see Standard play ever. There is a reason that Elvish Mystic was not included in Magic Origins. The card has simply become too good for Standard in the context of this format. Rattleclaw Mystic has bonus morph value with Deathmist Raptor, and it is also capable of making two mana in one turn, allowing you to get your third tier of threats out a turn earlier than expected. Caryatid is the weakest of our mana producers and the first to get cut when we don’t want to get flooded on mana in a matchup. Its still a great card and having a ramp spell that is resilient to spot removal is very useful at times.
These guys are your first non-mana plays in the deck. They do three important things for you. First is the casting cost. They quickly provide you with two green mana symbols to get your Nykthos to start making extra mana by turn 4. Second, they both provide solid opportunities for card advantage. Courser by playing lands off the top, and raptor’s graveyard shenanigans. Green has traditionally drawn the short stick when it has come to card advantage, so having your early drops give you an opportunity to be up cards is fantastic. Finally these guys both allow you to try to turn the corner early. Both cards are great at playing defense, and do a solid job at applying pressure in the matchups where that is important.
These three cards build up the core of your mid-game. They are all very powerful, but provide very different effects, which is excellent for the sake of flexibility.
Xenagos allows you to apply moderate pressure with his army of satyrs, but his true power actually comes from his mana ability. This deck puts a ton of creatures into play very quickly. Xenagos will often be a ritual the turn you cast him, allowing you to cast both he and another of your midgame cards in the same turn. Untapping with a Xenagos and other creatures will almost certainly get you to Atarka mana. Xenagos is one of the best cards in the deck and I have even considered playing a fourth copy at times, despite the diminishing returns of multiples from the Planeswalker legend rule.
Polukranos does a couple things. First, he is big and cheap. 5/5 for 4 is just great stats, and if left unchecked, he can pretty easily take over games just from his massive size. The real reason Polukanos is so great though is his flexibility as a mid-game play or a late game play. You will often have an overabundance of mana once you reach the late game, and Polukranos’ Monstrous ability allows you to sink every single mana into a plague wind that will usually put the game away. Unfortunately, Polukranos is a bit fragile. He eats most of the removal spells in the format, and is one of the few opportunities your opponent has to get ahead on mana efficiency trades. In addition, he doesn’t provide you with anything the turn he comes into play, so their removal spell deals with our entire play. Board Polukranos out if you are afraid that your opponents removal will set you back too far.
Whisperwood Elemental might be my favorite card in Standard, and he is absolutely perfect for this deck. He provides a great brick wall against decks where you still are trying to turn the corner by turn 4. He is a fantastic must kill threat if you are the one doing the pressuring. He provides value even if they have the removal spell for him on their turn. He can singlehandedly run away with the game if you get to untap with him in play. He provides bonus card advantage from Deathmist Raptor being in your graveyard. Our acceleration is a bit more fragile than ramp decks of other standard formats, because it is 100% creatures. Whisperwood protects our mana dorks from a sweeper before they can get the mana to cast it. Whisperwood is the truth.
Genesis Hydra is quietly one of the best cards in Devotion. Like Polukranos, Genesis Hydra has the ability to be both a mid-game play and a late game play. While you would much rather be casting a Hydra for at least five, or more preferably, seven. Firing him off for three or less is not an unreasonable line if you don’t have anything better to do. Usually this happens when you have a Nykthos, and are trying to build devotion. I have jammed him for one multiple times and felt it was definitely correct to do so.
Of course, his true power is discovered in the late game. His triggered ability occurs when you cast him, not when he resolves, so you are getting that trigger no matter what, making countermagic weaker against our late game plays. He’s basically a giant Bloodbraid Elf, and while he will often get boarded out in the matchups where we don’t have time to get him to his full potential. He definitely has earned his three slots in my opinion.
Ah yes, Dragonlord Atarka. The coup de grace. The addition that took devotion from a middle of the pack deck to a frontrunner in the metagame. Atarka is a blowout. She completely cripples your opponents side of the board when she comes down, even if she immediately eats a removal spell. If she doesn’t eat a removal spell, the game usually ends very quickly. Eight flying damage a turn tends to do that. I’ve been thinking about adding a fourth copy to the 75 somewhere, and wouldn’t be surprised at all if I were sporting all four sometime in the near future. Seven mana is somewhat of a sweet spot for this deck as well. Turn two mana creature, turn three face down Rattleclaw Mystic, turn four unmorph, make seven mana, drop Atarka is a common play pattern that allows for free wins.
The new kid on the block. Time will tell whether this card is consistent enough to warrant a slot, but I am certain that it is powerful enough to be here. This card reminds me of another revelation that terrorized Standard a couple years ago. Scry 5 is a massive amount of scry, and I don’t see anyone being able to take down a Nissa’s Revelation revealing Atarka.
Hornet Queen used to be in this slot mostly as a tool against Elspeth. Unfortunately, the printing of Languish has me a little cold on the queen for now. I feel that between Whisperwood, Polukranos, Genesis Hydra and Atarka, my deck is surprisingly resilient to what I feel will be the most popular sweeper for week one of the new format, and Hornet Queen just doesn’t keep up in that aspect. When you consider that most of the Elspeths in the format came from Abzan, a deck that will almost certainly be packing Languishes, benching the queen seems like an easy decision.
A quick note on Nissa, Vastwood Seer
Many people have asked my opinion on the new Nissa in the context of Green Devotion. I think that the new Nissa is a fantastic card. However, she doesn’t belong in devotion. After playing a few games with the deck you will quickly realize that while the deck gets to seven mana very consistently and quickly, it takes a very long time to actually get to seven lands. Your twelve mana dorks, your Nykthos mana, and your Xenagos mana all provide you with the massive amounts of mana you need to operate, but none of these cards are great at upping your land count. So we can’t reliably flip Nissa. So the question would be, is a Civic Wayfinder something we are in the market for? I feel that we are not. One of the draws to playing this deck is that all of the cards cmc 3 or higher have an immediate impact as soon as they hit the board. Nissa is a vanilla 2/2. She only has one green mana symbol, and she is crappy at both attacking and blocking. Nissa is going to be a great card, and I fully expect her to see plenty of play in this format. Just not in devotion.
Building a Sideboard
Blue black control has traditionally been one of the hardest matchups for devotion. They get to spend two and three mana consistently to completely answer our 5-7 mana stuff. But now we have access to a tool that completely sidesteps most of the answers they have access too. The Revenge can’t be Dissolved, or Disdainful Stroked. He can’t be targeted by Hero’s Downfall, Ultimate Price, or Silence the Believers. He can KO almost any Planeswalker the turn he comes down, and his five toughness puts him out of Languish range. He’s also a seven drop, putting him in the same sweet spot that Atarka enjoys. Gaea’s Revenge was a great sideboard card the last time he was in Standard, and I expect great things from him again this time around.
Barrage is a way for you to break stalemates in the mirror match. Many games will play out in a way where you both sides midgames cancel each other out and whoever has the most dominating late game will take over the game. Barrage allows you to get value out of your mid-game and steal games you would have otherwise lost. The tremor effect is also very strong against anything playing Hordeling Outburst.
Plummet used to be the most important card in the sideboard. One of this deck’s biggest weaknesses was flying creatures presenting a quick clock. Luckily for us the existence of Languish makes the tag team of Thunderbreak Reagent and Stormbreath Dragon a much less appealing option in this metagame. I used to have four copies in my board but I think shaving down to two is fine for now.
Den Protector is great. Everyone knows this already. Unfortunately she is not very synergistic with the maindeck cards in devotion, so we can’t play her maindeck. However, in the more grindy matchups, bringing in Den Protector gives your deck a different angle to operate on that they may not be prepared to handle. Den Protector works best when you have spells in your deck, because the spells hit your graveyard as soon as they are utilized. Usually Den Protector is brought in with Roast or Plummet for this reason.
While this deck is typically the one deploying the threats, not the answers, Sometimes you need to kill something off. Roast is the best removal spell we have access too in red, and can kill pretty much anything that Plummet wont take care of. In addition, having the option of Roasting a Hornet Nest is an extremely powerful play, often ending the game on the spot. Board in Roast when you need to make sure you don’t get run over, or you can get great value out of killing their creatures (mirror, Abzan Aggro, Red)
Hornets Nest is my concession to the red matchup. Some people Like Nylea’s Disciple or Feed the Clan, but I personally feel that Hornets Nest is the best anti-red card we have access to. Nest immediately halts any sort of offensive red decks can make, and makes Goblin Rabblemaster look like a joke. It can’t be burned out of the way without us gaining fantastic value, and the only way they have of sidestepping it (Goblin Heelcutter) matches up poorly against Deathmist Raptor and Whisperwood Elemental, and hilariously with Courser of Kruphix. Also, once again, Roasting a Hornet Nest is game.
Ugin is exceptionally powerful. It does things that no other card in standard is capable of, and having access to it is very useful. Our Genesis Hydras make it easier to get a hold of the one of than normal.
One of the Plummets from my last list has turned back into an Arbor Colossus. He is great against opposing dragons, and is surprisingly excellent in the mirror. He makes a ton of green with Nykthos, and can’t be Roasted.
I’m not really sure what to do with this last sideboard slot. I think I would like another late game card here, but don’t know exactly what the format will look like so its hard to figure out what I’ll want access too. I could see this being a Revelation and moving a fourth Atarka to the maindeck. Honestly it’s not that big of a deal what goes in the slot as long as you understand what the purpose the card you choose has in your sideboard.
Devotion’s Positioning in the new format.
So Devotion was clearly one of the best decks in Dragons of Tarkir standard, but does the new set have what it takes to dethrone it? Perhaps by the time the Pro Tour rolls around, but for week one, I don’t think so. Elvish Mystic is still the most powerful turn one play in standard, Whisperwood Elemental and Dragonlord Atarka are still among the most powerful things you can be doing at their respective mana costs and we get them earlier than anyone else. We cant really know what an established metagame will look like at this stage in Origins standard, but I am pretty confident that devotion will be a strong representative in the metagame at the very least. There aren’t a ton of new cards to play with, but that’s okay. All the pieces were already here, and they are still just as powerful as they were before the new set came out.
The power of Green Red Devotion is undeniable, proactive and resilient in a new format. You are doing the most powerful things in the format at every point on your mana curve, and your deck is full of synergy. It is a fantastic choice starting out in this unexplored format. Devotion is powerful enough to warrant having a full blown target on its head in my opinion. However the past Standard format was so pleasantly diverse that no one really could afford to devote (heh heh) the necessary attention to this matchup. I don’t see much changing in terms of format diversity with the introduction of Magic Origins, and fully expect Whisperwood Elemental and friends to continue terrorizing Standard in the months to come. Good Luck in your future tournaments and don’t forget to practice that devotion math!
If you have any questions about Devotion, or magic in general feel free to contact me on Facebook or Twitter.
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