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Devotion: The Rising New Power in Standard


As soon as Theros joined Standard, it shook things up. Perhaps the biggest change it has brought to the metagame is the shift in deck-building brought about by the introduction to the environment of the devotion mechanic. Every color has been affected, with at least a half dozen major archetypes springing up around devotion and at least three completely different devotion decks winning major tournaments.

One of the first big Standard tournaments using Theros was the StarCityGames 5K in Worcester, Massachusetts. After I lost a feature match to Christian Calcano’s Esper deck with my W/U deck, he explained to me that he and some of his comrades felt that the new Standard environment wouldn’t be much different than Return to Ravnica Block Constructed, which rang true to me at the time. After all, this was why Christian was playing Esper—it had been among the best decks in Block, and it had added some good Theros cards: Hero's Downfall, Dissolve, Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, and scry lands. To be fair to Christian, his premise might not have been totally accurate, but Esper has been putting up very good results, especially at the StarCityGames Invitational in Indianapolis.

Christian’s basic premise was wrong though. This Standard environment is quite different than RTR Block Constructed, and the metagame evolved to prove it. It started right away at 5K Worcester with the event being won by Phillip Bertorelli and his mono-red devotion deck:

Not only was mono-red a deck with little impact on RTR Block Constructed, but this deck represented the first of many decks designed around devotion that would have a major impact on the metagame. Every card choice in the deck fits perfectly with its key card: Fanatic of Mogis. The deck is focused on cheap, red permanents—the more red in the casting cost, the better. It runs just enough burn to take blockers out of the way, to retrieve Phoenixes, and to give the deck some reach to go with the Fanatic’s dangerous facial burn. Cards like Boros Reckoner and Ash Zealot are already high in the power curve because of their extremely specific casting costs, but they become even better in a deck that not only has no trouble casting them, but takes advantage of their demanding mana costs thanks to devotion.

Two weeks later was Pro Tour Theros, featuring Standard as its Constructed format. It was there that mono-blue devotion exploded onto the scene (in part because it had a good matchup against mono-red devotion), and Jeremy Dezani even took home the trophy with it.

This deck exploited devotion even more, cashing in on its commitment to blue with both Thassa, God of the Sea and Master of Waves. The scry of Thassa gives the deck a strong late game and smooth draws in general. Not only can it be a big-threat creature, but it can make itself and others (such as Specters) unblockable. Master of Waves pretty much beats red decks and is a must-deal-with threat for other opposing decks.

Another new approach to devotion was also used at Pro Tour Theros: two-colored devotion decks. Thanks in part to Burning-Tree Emissary, devotion decks can be built with both red and green. While some use both colors of devotion, the top ones at the Pro Tour chose to be focused on either red or green. Makihito Mihara’s green-leaning version even made it into the Top 4.

If you were wondering whether Gods would be used in Standard, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Mihara used the God of the Hunt, giving his entire team trample and giving himself the option of pumping his whole team for even more trampling fun. In addition, he used Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. This allowed him to generate prodigious amounts of mana for casting expensive spells such as Garruk, Caller of Beasts, casting the multiple spells he might fetch with Garruk, making creatures such as Polukranos, World Eater into monstrosities and pumping cards such as Scavenging Ooze and Nylea.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa took his R/g devotion deck that he played at the Pro Tour in the red direction instead.

This was essentially a very teched-out version of Phillip Bertorelli’s red devotion deck. Paulo added green for powerful planeswalkers such as Domri Rade and Xenagos, the Reveler; plus, he made even greater use of devotion by adding Purphoros, God of the Forge and the Shrine to Nyx in addition to the Fanatic. All of Purphoros’s abilities go nicely with the theme of hammering the opponent’s life total by using a parade of red creatures.

Those of us who might have thought the metagame would immediately settle down after the Pro Tour were mistaken. With the power of devotion broadly on display, brewers hurried back into their laboratories to see what else they could come up with that made use of this powerful mechanic. The very next weekend, Brian Braun-Duin rode his mono-black devotion deck all the way to victory at Grand Prix Louisville.

While there were two mono-blue devotion decks in the Top 8, there were three mono-black devotion decks. Brian may only have been running one God, but his deck featured four Gray Merchant of Asphodel, giving him reach against control decks and giving him crucial life swings against aggressive decks.

While red, blue, and black devotion decks have been receiving the most attention, there have been successful devotion decks for every color, including, in many cases, before the Pro Tour. Sam Church won a Platinum TCQ event before the Pro Tour with his mono-white devotion deck.

While he failed to make as extensive use of devotion as later decks of other colors, he did reward himself for playing a permanent-based, mono-colored deck by playing with Heliod, God of the Sun. If somehow you had enough mass removal to deal with his swarm of cheap creatures, Heliod gave him an indestructible source of endless 2/1s to finish you off.

While mono-blue devotion was tearing it up at the Pro Tour in Dublin, Matt Brown was winning Wyoming TCGplayer States with mono-green devotion.

In addition to running Nyleas and Shrines, Matt rolled with four Reverent Hunters. This gave him the possibility of a 6/6 on turn three with the right draw and almost no limit to how big of a 3-drop it could be later.

The fact is that devotion has singlehandedly reshaped the Standard environment in ways that make it impossible to mistake it for anything resembling Return to Ravnica Block Constructed. The format is now largely dominated by decks built around non-token permanents. Whereas RTR Block was full of G/W token decks and low-creature Esper control decks, we’re now seeing more and more decks with few, if any, instants or sorceries. Perhaps the biggest change is the move toward mono-colored, regardless of the color.

While RTR Block was ruled by three-colored decks and the occasional two-colored deck, even the addition of scry lands hasn’t stopped the power of devotion from pulling people over to mono-colored. This domination by creature-heavy decks may lead to a rise in decks featuring Supreme Verdict, which may lead us right back to mono-red devotion, which, in turn, will make mono-blue devotion better, and so on. Even when a new mechanic such as devotion brings great change to Standard, it fails to change the fact that the Standard environment evolves in a giant circle. What will Wizards think of next?

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