Turn three, my opponent taps his Elvish Mystic and three lands, playing Polukranos. I untap, make seven mana with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and play Fanatic of Mogis, sending eight damage at my opponent. I use two of the mana to Mizzium Mortars his Courser of Kruphix and attack with my Boros Reckoner. It’s my turn four and my opponent is slumped down in his chair. I feel good about this game.
Let’s backtrack for a moment. I’ve played Magic long enough to have sad stories about trading Tarmogoyfs for Epochrosites and in that time I’ve come to realize I’m more comfortable presenting threats than trying to find answers. I know there are some people, like me, who see an Esper mirror and wonder what went wrong in a person’s life that would cause them to do that to themselves.
I’ve been a red mage whenever red was good, or at least less embarrassing, and there’s something to be said for sticking to what you know. At Grand Prix Louisville I played Uw Devotion before it was cool. That was also before it was good. I had visions of using Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx to power out huge Sphinx’s Revelations. Instead I used Revelations to kill two different Judge’s Familiars. I’d like to blame those misplays on whatever sickness made me empty my stomach outside of my favorite Louisville restaurant (Ramsi’s Cafe on the World) later that evening, but the real culprit was probably a lack of familiarity with the Standard format.
Between then and GP Cincinnati I played in two Standard tournaments. One was a PTQ where I played Mono-U and dropped at 3-2. The other was a Tuesday night tournament at one of my local stores where I went 4-0 with Rw devotion.
Playing the red devotion deck I realized it was my style, playing out problems as opposed to having a handful of answers. It also had pretty linear lines of play which is a plus when you don’t have a lot of time to playtest or much experience with a deck.
As Cincy approached I knew I would be playing the red devotion list, but I switched the white for black. I still had dreams of using Nykthos to cast an unfair spell with “X” in the casting cost. I also enjoy the feeling of handing someone a deck and watching their eyebrows raise. Those aren’t the best reasons to run a deck, but they’re mine.
Here’s the list I finished 59th with, going 8-1 day one, 3-3 day two.
Red Black Devotion
I should have played twenty-five lands. The biggest issue I had on the day was having to mulligan hands with a Nykthos and a mountain or B/R land. I cut one at the last moment to fit in more removal. Theoretically you don’t need to hit five lands because Nykthos provides abundant mana, but you don’t always draw it and sometimes your permanents get removed. You don’t want to be looking at a Stormbreath in your hand and hoping to find a fifth land.
The creature base is stock for red devotion decks, with the exception of the three Frostburn Weirds. I cut the fourth so I could run more removal. I expected GR Monsters, black decks, and UW/Esper control. If one drop red decks are popular he’s excellent, but against almost everyone else he’s just, well, weird.
Burning-Tree Emissary is the best three drop in the deck. Turn two Ash Zealot, turn three Emissary with Nykthos allows you to play Purphoros, Chandra, or Fanatic of Mogis a turn early. If you use the four mana to play a Reckoner you can untap with eight mana on turn four. If you live the dream and drop two Emissaries that turn you can play out a Stormbreath Dragon. It’s also perfectly fine to play it turn two and use the mana for a Mortars.
Fanatic of Mogis surprised me with its ability to flip games. Opponents who leave themselves open for a counterattack they expect to survive often don’t because of a pre-combat Fanatic. He’s also an excellent answer to planeswalkers. Between the Fanatic and Dreadbore I never felt pressured by a planeswalker over fifteen rounds of magic.
Dreadbore is the biggest incentive to play black. Having excellent removal that is also relevant against control is worth the mana that you would save by playing Chained to the Rocks. It also doesn’t lead to blowouts by Wear // Tear or Detention Sphere. I’m not a fan of having my removal removed.
Chandra, Pyromaster shines in this deck. You often have enough mana to play the card revealed with her and a card from your hand. I was certain I would primarily use her zero ability but almost half the time I was growing her loyalty to remove a blocker so my Fanatic could attack. The joy you experience when she eats an Elvish Mystic can’t be explained. If you should ever find her at seven loyalty feel free to ultimate her to find some removal and kill all of your opponent’s creatures. I never pulled it off but it’s good to have dreams.
Hammer of Purphoros not only adds some hard to remove devotion, it also changes races. On an empty board a Fanatic of Mogis does seven damage with a Hammer in play. It’s great against black decks and control, taxing their removal. And it’s nice to have something to do with those extra lands, assuming you’re smart enough to play twenty-five.
Finally, Rakdos’s Return is the quickest way to get free wins in Standard. Even if you aren’t using Nykthos to make “X” something obscene, a Return for three or four can disrupt the midrange Jund and B/w decks that rely on fair cards to make trades. It’s excellent against control decks because they often tap out, either for their answers or threats of their own. The ability to kill planeswalkers while ripping apart your opponent’s hand just wins games.
My sideboard had a little bit of everything, extras of cards like Hammer and Return that are good against control. Duress for those same match-ups. Dark Betrayal because Mortars is pretty bad against black unless they’re playing Blood Baron. Doom Blade, which should be a three or four of, because Master of Waves is still a card. Peak Eruption for the potential Chained to the Rock blowouts. The Shock and Anger of the Gods for fast aggro decks. And a Whip of Erebos, because I thought it would be cute. It did win me a game against a burn deck, but it really wasn’t worth the slot.
When sideboarding I almost never took more than five cards out. Any more than that and you dilute your devotion count. You want to be the aggressor in most match-ups so removing cards like Ash Zealots and Frostburn Weirds can really hinder your ability to play the more devastating cards like Stormbreath Dragon and Fanatic of Mogis early. Against control and black decks I would take out Mizzium Mortars and a couple of Boros Reckoners to bring in Hammer, Duresses, and Return against control and Hammer, and Dark Betrayal against black. If you think a Blood Baron might make an appearance leave a couple of the Mortars in. They’re pretty bad against most of black’s creatures but you need a way to kill him.
Sitting down for round one I looked at my friends with byes and regretted not playing more. I was paired against an Esper aggro deck that was running Obzedat, Ghost Councils, Blood Barons, along with Precinct Captains and Brimaz. We get to game three and I’m feeling good, until he draws his Whip of Erebos and brings Obzedat back from his graveyard. It’s a race I can’t win and there I am, in the one loss bracket with zero byes.
I spent the next eight rounds playing a decent sampling of the Standard metagame. Twice I played GR Monsters, a match up I feel pretty good about. While they are playing big guys you can ramp out more threats than they can deal with and the Dreadbores keep Polukranos from ruining your day. The Jund variation doesn’t change much. You still apply more pressure than they can deal with and Fanatic can make it so you don’t even have to attack. Boros Reckoner also puts in a lot of work against their fat dudes.
I faced mono-black once and B/w once. They play out fairly similarly. Unless they remove your early drops to reduce your devotion you can flood the field and make their attacks pretty bad. I had a game where my opponent played back to back Desecration Demons but couldn’t attack with them for fear of a lethal counterattack. This is also one of the matchups where the extra Hammer of Purphoros comes in. The haste is relevant but more importantly it forces them to use removal on your lands.
I saw UW control twice. The games usually ended with my opponent tapping out for a Jace, and I would tap out for Rakdos’s Return. Fanatic is great in this match up as well just as a 4/2 attacker. The biggest downside of not playing white is felt in this match up with the loss of Boros Charm. Instead of throwing down threats knowing a Supreme Verdict can’t ruin your day, you throw down one threat, maybe two, and wait for your opponent to tap out to answer it. Then you punish them for it with a Return or Stormbreath Dragon.
I played one burn deck and felt lucky to win. It’s probably the toughest match up. All of our removal is slow if they’re playing one drops and useless if they’re only playing Chandra’s Phoenix. I found myself racing them instead of trying to go the control route. In game three I was at four life, my opponent was at 16. He passed the turn and I played two Fanatics, the first for nine, the second for ten.
I also played against a Maze’s End deck late in the day. I was surprised to see it at the 7-1 table, but it made short work of me game one. My hand full of removal looked pretty sad. Post board I’m not sure this is a match you can lose, between the Duresses and extra Rakdos’s Return. Fog might stop combat damage, but it does nothing for a Fanatic of Mogis.
At the end of day one I had won eight in a row after my round one loss and made my first day two of a Grand Prix. The next morning I was well rested and pretty happy to see my first opponent play a Stomping Ground. He played a turn four Polukranos into turn five Stormbreath Dragon, attacking me for nine. I took it, untapped and made seven mana with my Nykthos. I then played a second Nykthos, used two mana from the previous activation to get me up to twelve mana and played my own Stormbreath Dragon, giving it monstrous and attacking, leaving my Boros Reckoner and Burning-Tree Emissary on defense. He played a second dragon and attacked with one of his flyers. I responded with a Fanatic for ten, ending the game. I played a second GR Monsters deck during day two with similar results.
My second loss came to a mono-blue deck. Master of Waves presents problems, even when you Mizzium Mortars away his tokens. I also misplayed game three, playing out an Ash Zealot with an Anger of the Gods in hand. I had hoped to draw out more of his hand before playing it, but two Nightveil Specters kept that from happening. Had I held the Zealot longer I would have had enough devotion later in the game to overload a Mortars and play Fanatic in the same turn, effectively winning the game.
I next played a Bw deck. Game one I took with an early Return and a Mortars for the Blood Baron he drew after I emptied his hand. It was kind of a awkward Return because he already had Underworld Connections out when I played it, but it forced him to lean on the Connections and the life loss combined an aggressive draw on my part was too much for him to overcome. I won game three thanks to Hammer. Once you have a couple of golems out Blood Baron isn’t nearly as scary.
I was two wins from making top eight when I heard my name called over the loudspeaker. I was sent to the secondary feature match area to play Ari Lax who was running GB dredge. Surprisingly enough I hadn’t play tested that match up. Game one I kept what I thought was an amazing hand right up until two seconds after I said “I’ll keep,” when I realized my second mountain was actually a Hammer of Purphoros. I guess the bright lights of the feature match area and Ari’s fast talking had me paying less attention than I should have been. My mountain, Nykthos hand seemed pretty awful when he played a Nemesis of Mortals on turn four, then two more on turn five. The second game I was on the play and kept a hand of two drops, removal, Dragon, Nykthos and Temple of Malice. Did I mention I should have ran twenty-five lands? After scrying I found a Mountain on turn four, by that time he had a 7/7 satyr wearing a Nighthowler. I had the Doom Blade for the satyr but the Herald of Torment he put on the Nighthowler ended the game pretty quick.
I was down after the loss, but at least realized it was completely my fault. It may sound odd but I would much rather know I messed up than die to mana screw or flood. If it’s a mistake you can learn from it and be less likely to make the same mistake again. I should have paid more attention to my hand in the first game and at least considered a mulligan in the second.
I knew going into the final round I was a lock for top 64, but a win could get me a possible top 32 and $250 more dollars. My opponent played a Stomping Ground and Elvish Mystic and I breathed a sigh of relief. We went back and forth, him playing a Courser and Polukranos, me playing a Reckoner and Dragon. Things were going great until turn five when he played a Nykthos. My stomach turned as I realized he was a Gr devotion deck and he had his Shrine, while I had yet to draw mine. He pumped eleven mana into his Polukranos, killing my Reckoner and Ash Zealot. The Xenagos, God of Revels he played the following turn didn’t help my cause. Game two was going great for me with him taking quite a bit of damage and me dropping an early Dragon. Then he played a Burning-Tree Emissary and said “I’ll float the red mana and use my Elvish Mystic and the green mana to activate Nykthos.” I looked at the two green/red lands he still had untapped and knew where this was going. He overloaded Mizzium Mortars killing my entire team and wiping away my devotion. I was only able to watch as he played an Arbor Colossus the next turn. That game him enough devotion to make ten mana with his Shrine, he played a second Shrine and made ten more. As he turned his 22/22 Polukranos, Nylea, and Xenagos sideways to attack me he gave me a “Are you going to make me do this?” look. I told him if I assembled that board state I would want the satisfaction of getting to attack with it. We laughed, shook hands, and breathed a sigh of relief as fifteen rounds of magic came to a close.
p.s. A big thumbs up to Professional Event Services for running an exceptional event. Day one ended around 8:30. Day two was over for me by five, giving me time to play in a mini-masters side event.
p.p.s. A big thumbs down to my finals opponent in the mini-masters event for telling the judge he won and getting prizes before we even played. PES was quick to take care of it and gave me prize packs, but not cool.
p.p.p.s. A thumb in the middle to my friend Heath Perdue for calling me just after midnight on Friday and saying “Hey, did you know we had to register in advance for this event?” Keep in mind that he works for the government and is responsible for our nation’s defense. Sleep tight.
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