This weekend I will be competing in the second Mythic Championship in London. It'll be my first professional-level event, after qualifying for the event via a Regional Pro Tour Qualifier in February. I have my deck selected, and am feeling confident enough about it, but it is a very different choice than I would have made a week ago, when I was high as a kite on a very unusual Modern archetype.
While testing the London mulligan, it was incredibly obvious that the decks that benefited the most were decks that relied on a low number of cards to actually win, as they would more readily be able to find the specific cards they needed. Typically, this meant fast combo decks that would win early, and the fear was that unfair, degenerate decks trying to win the game on turn two or three would take over the format. But, most people jumped to decks like Dredge (which already saw a respectable amount of play), Tron (which really only needs the Tron lands and a big threat to stick), or hyper-fast linear decks like Grishoalbrand. But in a world where Modern got faster, there was very little talk of the Devoted Druid combo, which needs three cards to win: Devoted Druid, Vizier of Remedies, and something to pour infinite mana into. While goldfishing, Devoted Druid decks tend to be faster, and have more reasonable post-board gameplans.
The problem seemed to be the bogeyman of the format, U/R Phoenix. A deck with Lightning Bolt and Thing in the Ice, along with a generally quick clock, was a losing proposition for the stock Devoted Druid lists, which are effectively value decks with an infinite combo thrown in to end the game out of nowhere. They tend to be more of a midrange deck than a combo deck, and that wouldn't fly.
As the Mythic Championship got closer and the London mulligan appeared on Magic Online, a small batch of cards surfaced that could take advantage of the direction Modern was headed: Simian Spirit Guide, Gemstone Caverns, Chalice of the Void, and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. It required some interesting decklist choices to enable Chalice of the Void in particular, but Chalice could regularly lock players out of one-drop spells the first turn, which is almost a one-hit KO against many Modern decks that rely on powerful one-drops like Ancient Stirrings and Faithless Looting. But while that combo itself was interesting, the decks it was seeing play in, like Eldrazi Taxes, generally were not: they were a bit clunky and slow. Matchups where Chalice of the Void or Thalia, Guardian of Thraben didn't finish the game on their own left the deck relying on attacking with medium creatures or trying to Ghost Quarter opponents out with Leonin Arbiter in play. None of it felt particularly good.
And then the MTGO decklists published one from parabol336, which was a spicy "you got your peanut butter in my chocolate" concoction with both the Devoted Druid combo and the Chalice/Thalia package:
I was immediately in love.
Beyond being a Temple Garden deck, which would be incredibly #OnBrand for me, the deck just did a lot of things that I was looking for: disrupt problematic decks, win quickly and out of nowhere, and have a reasonable plan of "bad creature beatdown" when all else failed. The beauty of the Devoted Druid combo is that none of the combo pieces are one-drops; the stock lists play Noble Hierarch and Birds of Paradise to enable Gavony Township and keep the creature count high for Collected Company, but they aren't necessary to the gameplan. Funnily enough, Collected Company hits Simian Spirit Guide, allowing the deck to keep the creature count at 27 despite playing 11 non-creature spells. The Devoted Druid combo even plays well with Simian Spirit Guide, and over the several leagues I played with the archetype, there were more games that ended after a turn one Devoted Druid than I ever would have guessed from first looking at the deck.
What I disliked was the sideboard. The deck can't board out many cards and maintain both the Devoted Druid combo and the Chalice of the Void/Thalia, Guardian of Thraben lines of attack. It might be able to shave off one copy of Chalice of the Void or one copy of Militia Bugler to squeeze in a couple cards, but there just isn't room to play the Devoted Druid combo, all the pieces needed to actually win the game once it generates infinite mana, the Thalia, Guardian of Thraben/Chalice of the Void package, and several sideboard cards without going over 60.
On the other hand, when it needed to board out cards, it needed to board out a lot of them. Cutting Chalice of the Void and Simian Spirit Guide in slower matchups, like against W/U Control or B/G Midrange, meant that there were 8-12 open deck slots post-board that the sideboard couldn't fill.
My solution was to retool the sideboard to be able to board back into something more akin to a stock Devoted Druid list, giving the deck some toolbox options against most of its matchups when it didn't need to change many cards, and a lot of cards when Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Chalice of the Void weren't strong enough to invalidate the card disadvantage of Simian Spirit Guide. Chord of Calling and Collected Company do a lot of heavy lifting towards both of these plans—they make bringing in just one copy of a card much more reasonable because they can find those silver bullets so easily. Because of this, I changed one maindeck card: Ezuri, Renegade Leader became Rhonas the Indomitable. While Ezuri, Renegade Leader has some marginal upside with Devoted Druid (which came up about three times over a few leagues) being able to pay to regenerate itself, Rhonas the Indomitable has more use when the deck is more likely to win with other creatures attacking regularly.
Voice of Resurgence and Kitchen Finks serve as difficult-to-kill cards against midrange decks. Decks with Path to Exile only have so much removal, and if they need to spend their Paths to answer a Voice of Resurgence cleanly, there are fewer instant-speed ways to disrupt the combo or a key threat like Tireless Tracker. Against black/green, they have no good answer to them unless they have Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet in play. I toyed around with Devout Lightcaster as an option specifically for Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet that had some marginal utility against Grixis Death's Shadow and other bad Liliana of the Veil decks, but it ultimately seemed a little too narrow. If the deck sees a resurgence, though, it might be worth considering.
The toolbox cards are fairly self-explanatory: the pro-black and hexproof creatures come in against black decks like Grixis Death's Shadow and B/G Midrange. Scavenging Ooze hits their graveyard, Knight of Autumn is a fourth Kitchen Finks that pays the life up front or a Naturalize. Tireless Tracker gives the deck a way to use its excess lands other than Horizon Canopy.
The Postmortem Lunges were specifically for Fatal Push decks, as another way to win out of nowhere on just three mana: Postmortem Lunge bringing back Devoted Druid means the deck only needs a single white-producing land leftover to play Vizier of Remedies and combo off. Frequently those same decks let the Vizier of Remedies live anyway, as on its own it does very little, and Devoted Druid normally needs to be in play for one turn or enter at the end of their turn to generate infinite mana.
At the end of it all, I loved the deck both in the Magic Online metagame and against the haters who told me not to register Temple Garden at the Mythic Championship. So why didn't I play it?
In addition to the London mulligan, Wizards of the Coast is trying out something else as well: starting with round two of Modern, each player will get to review the opponent's decklist for one minute, listing the full 60 card maindeck and a list of cards (but not quantities) in the sideboard.
Unfortunately for this deck, letting the opponent preview your plans kills a lot of the deck's ability to win. While a deck like U/R Phoenix might not be able to play through a Chalice of the Void on one very well, they can know to expect it and mulligan or play accordingly game one. Meanwhile other decks can simply keep hands that are less reliant on one drops. And while that alone isn't likely to cost a ton of percentage points, it is going to have a cost.
But beyond that, showing the list of cards in the sideboard against this specific plan is heinous in the matchups where it needs to transform. A sideboard that lists "Voice of Resurgence, Kitchen Finks, Tireless Tracker, Mirran Crusader, Chameleon Colossus, Sigarda, Host of Herons" is pretty clearly looking to grind post-board, and which cards get cut are going to be immediately obvious. There isn't even a guessing game of "which 12 cards stay in, the prison cards or the midrange cards?" because the prison cards are very clearly too bad to keep in the deck.
It's really too bad, too. I was pretty sure I had stumbled onto something fantastic when I saw this decklist, and as someone who has fumbled around in Modern trying to find a deck that resonates with me since Mardu Pyromancer fell out of favor, it was a breath of fresh air to enjoy the deck I was playing in Modern.
Beyond that, it's really disheartening to be playing what almost doesn't even feel like a Magic tournament at this point. Between playing a draft format I've never been able to hold the physical cards for and testing a new mulligan rule, it was already going to be a weird Mythic Championship. The decklist thing just pushes it even further from the events I've been playing for 11 years. Putting a twist on a stock list is both fun and rewarding, but playing a card that is a little bit lower power level, or a silver bullet that changes how the matchup has to be played, is lost completely at a tournament like this. It incentivizes less—not more—innovation, as there is more of a burden for deviations from the norm to be the best possible move to make. And in a format that has largely been explored and hasn't had new cards since January, that bar is a lot higher.
"But scouting!" you might say. I might not have played in any Mythic Championships before this one, but I know people that have; scouting was already heavily mitigated by just not listing who the opponent was on the pairings board and not allowing phone use in the play area. Now it's more similar to the top tables at a Grand Prix: just know what the winningest players are on and go from there.
For this reason, the argument that it disadvantages the featured players makes little sense to me either. The only way to eliminate that is to do away with coverage, which nobody wants. Because winning players tend to be the ones featured, it's not that dissimilar from the top tables. While a specific maindeck card might lose some value once other players know it's there, the opponent has to:
1. Look into that specific player and feature match
2. Correctly identify a relevant maindeck card
3. Remember that without a reminder ONE MINUTE BEFORE THE MATCH STARTS
4. Have it actually come up in-game
I'm just not convinced that this is all going to happen that often. What I can tell you is relevant is this: reading their exact 60 and a list of cards in their 75 is definitely going to impact how games are played. This solution to a small problem is more ham-fisted than Ilharg, the Raze-Boar, and I hope they don't continue it.
That said, outside of this Mythic Championship, I would happily run Devoted Druid. It makes me a little sad that the next time I get to play Modern will be in August, as I finally found my true Chord of Calling: making infinite mana and shooting them an arbitrarily large Walking Ballista.
But in the meantime, wish me luck at the Mythic Championship with a much-less-cool stock list.
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