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Breaking Historic with Mono-Black Devotion

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This past week I played my very first ever games of Historic, and it was actually pretty sweet.

For a good while now, Rob has been pestering me about how fun Historic has been, since the format is still pretty underexplored, and this week's release of Amonkhet Remastered on MTG Arena has only cemented that unexplored quality further.

(Unfortunately, I did think Wurmcoil Engine was legal in Historic, and as such, recommended it to Rob. He was quite sad to discover it was not legal.)

The thing about Historic is that it kind of feels like an MTG Arena version of Pioneer (which, why both of these formats exist independently, is a whole 'nother question) in that it has powerful cards and interactions, but it's not as powerful as Modern, so there's still a ton of room for more interactive games. The card pool is also large enough, including the random individual additions peppered into the format, that there is still a ton of underexplored space.

Well, as I was chatting with Rob about the format, I scrolled past a Phyrexian Obliterator in my MTG Arena collection. I was like, "Whoa! How come Mono-Black Devotion isn't a deck?!" His response was as follows:

"It really has to curve out to work - it relies on having to play a spell up the curve. Gets disrupted easily. Also it's slow."

Considering I don't think Rob knows what he's talking about, I took this as a challenge, remembering how strong cards like Thoughtseize, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, and Pack Rat were back in their respective Standard format, and brewed up the following list.


Okay, to be fair, this was the final version of the list, so the Pack Rat isn't included, but down below you can find our entire experience with the deck where we go [spoiler alert!] undefeated with it in about six rounds. As far as Pack Rat goes, it was actually a little too slow. Playing a 1/1 on turn two, then discarding a card and spending three mana to have two Grizzly Bears just didn't feel good enough. It was a great plan in the Standard format it was legal in, but I felt like Historic was a little quicker and more aggressive.

Instead, we replaced them with some higher-devotion 2-drops, like Fiend Artisan, Tymaret, Chosen from Death, and Gifted Aetherborn. We also previously had some Yarok's Fenlurker in the deck, but you were rarely able to pump it effectively and giving the opponent a random discard was usually not super exciting. Tymaret, however, was a great substitute, often having between six and 8 toughness, and his ability to exile relevant cards in graveyards (ahem... Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath) was really useful.

Another card that really shocked me was Fiend Artisan. This was not a card I was expecting to do much other than have two Black pips in its casting cost. Instead, it was able to sacrifice irrelevant cards like Gifted Aetherborn or Tymaret when they outlived their usefulness, and search up a Gray Merchant or a Phyrexian Obliterator.

Another sweet interaction the deck has is between Ayara, First of Locthwain, Nightmare Shepherd, and Gray Merchant. You'll find that most sweet interactions include Gray Merchant. The interaction in question is, when you have both of the former cards in play, you can sacrifice a Gray Merchant, then bring back a 1/1 copy of Gray Merchant to trigger him again. That should typically be game, since you'll have at least seven Black pips on the board at this point.

Nightmare Shepherd was a card I added because it seemed cute with Gary, but then it just kept doing a lot of hard work in the deck, and that's in addition to being a 4/4 flier. He makes both abilities on Ayara more effective, he makes sure we're able to keep Black pips on the board, and unless you kill him first, there are some creatures that are quite unfavorable to get rid of twice. Speaking of Ayara, First of Locthwain, she's basically a house here. The three Black casting cost is nice enough, but all of her abilities are relevant. One of the best features is letting each additional Tymaret draw you a card instead of sitting in your hand. Considering one of our main win conditions is Gray Merchant, her drain ability does actually add up.

Order of Midnight was a late addition that I didn't end up trying yet, but it was meant to replace the Yarok's Fenlurker. It just seemed pretty good to be able to get back something like a Gray Merchant if need be. I'm not sure if they're good enough, so consider this a flexible slot. Lurrus of the Dream-Den was another late addition to the deck that I really liked. Not only is it another form of card advantage, allowing us to replay a lot of our versatile 2-drops, but it also keeps us alive with lifelink and adds two Black devotion. This turned out to be a great addition. Another untested idea was the single Chupacabra in the maindeck. This was mostly meant to be a target for Fiend Artisan so we could search out a removal spell if we needed one, since there were definitely times I wished I had one.

It's also nice having a way to remove any creature or planeswalker, that also doubles as a bb creature. While we could use something else, like Vraska's Contempt in the maindeck, I think Murderous Rider is a great addition to the devotion archetype.

The sideboard is a little bit of everything, from graveyard hate, to life gain, to planeswalker removal. I'm not sure what you might expect to encounter, so tweak accordingly. I assume the deck might have issues with enchantments or artifacts, but at least we have a good deal of the former taken care of with something like Noxious Grasp. Against control decks, having four Thoughtseize, four Agonizing Remorse, and three Phyrexian Arena is usually very good. Aggro decks usually can't beat our removal and life gain. Even in the matches it felt like we were going to lose, we ended up pulling out wins through things like Gray Merchants and Obliterators. It was a great feeling, and really cemented how strong Gray Merchant of Asphodel is for a silly five-mana common.

In general, the deck just really felt like it came together well, and I was actually surprised by our positive results. I guess Rob didn't know what he was talking about after all. Maybe I even overlooked something great for the archetype and you guys can suggest it.

Like I said, you can check out all of the undefeated action in the video below:

As always, thank you all so much for reading and watching. If you've been having a good time in Historic, which seems super accessible right now, let me know down in the comments, and what you've been battling with! I love you guys, I hope you're all staying safe, and be sure to use promo code FRANK5 for all of your purchases. You're the best and I'll catch you all next week!

Frank Lepore

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