In many ways, if you had asked people to predict what Standard would look like after the initial release of Khans of Tarkir, chances are pretty good that they would have been right, or quite close. Enchantments were obviously going to be popular due to an entire block showcasing them. Perhaps this trend would push so far as to warrant some main deck enchantment removal (and it has). Others might have looked at powerful individual cards from Khans and claimed that they would be ruling the land, such as Jeskai Ascendancy. Even if specific cards were not named, the idea that three color decks built around the clans would be popular surely would have been shared. And of course, there would obviously be a deck build around Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, as that card is just too blatantly powerful...
Well, we were running good for awhile there. Enchantments? Check! Powerful engines? Check! Clan defined tri-color decks? Check! Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx? Nykthos? Nykthos.....?
I have mentioned it before, but Nykthos is one of the most powerful cards in Standard. It is able to do something that almost no other card can do or has been able to do for the past 10 years. Big, explosive mana producing lands always run the risk of being too powerful and for awhile, Nykthos was right up with that bunch, but in recent months, playing a single color has simply become less and less appealing.
Not only has the mana bases of three color decks been improved, the incentives for dipping into that third color are oh-so-high. Whether you are simply looking for a Charm or instead are looking for a flagship card like Butcher of the Horde to carry your deck, a third color is going to provide that. So in reality, Nykthos, along with some heavily colored single-color permanents are up against some stiff competition.
The temptation of Butcher and Crackling Doom is high, but so is the explosive mana of Nykthos and really, only green has even entertained the land in recent months. However, while I was exploring Dictate of the Twin Gods it seemed like red had at least some strong tools to consider for such a shell and I wanted to share those with you today to see if we can bring back a classic.
In the card game industry, when we talk about a pip, we generally mean a colored resource used to pay for something. In Magic, this always translates to the mana symbols a card has, either in its casting cost or text box. So Leatherback Baloth is a card with three green pips while Ravenous Baloth is a card with only two.
Obviously when looking at Nykthos, counting the pips in our permanents is going to be vital to the execution of our deck. It could be correct to run a slightly worse card just because it has a more favorable casting cost to our goals. Looking for red cards in Standard that have dense pips is a rather easy task though. Here is a quick list of what I was able to come up with.
Archetype of Aggression
Dictate of the Twin Gods
Eidolon of Great Revel
Hammer of Purphoros
Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
Wall of Fire
That is every card with at least two red pips on it in the format and there are quite a few strong cards amongst the group, in addition to a few that could be all stars in the right shell. We won't be running all of these of course, but they do show us where we can go with our list. Popular red devotion cards of the past like Purphoros and Fanatic of Mogis are also likely to make an appearance, so we should be able to fill out the list rather quickly.
Our early game pip dense cards tend to be on the more aggressive side. We could run a card like Eidolon of Great Revel and then not be on the attack plan, but it seems like we would be losing a lot of value and no other two-drop offers two pips to work with. Similarly, Hammer of Purphoros and Prophetic Flamespeaker both seem awesome, but are better in decks that want to turn things sideways early and often.
If we loosen our requirement for red pips a bit, we also have Goblin Rabblemaster to add to the above group of characters for a nice aggressive early game that serves up rather independent threats. Many aggressive decks, especially anything devotion related, tends to need to deploy multiple cardas early to Threaten anything. A single creature tends to be too weak or nonthreatening because the deck is built to deploy a swarm of threats. While we would love to have a bunch of permanents fueling our Nykthos, an opponent cannot let most of our cards live due to raw power level alone.
Eidolon can single handedly beat most decks but will be rather tame elsewhere. But Flamespeaker and Rabblemaster are not cards that the opponent can let hang around for a second threat to walk into Anger of the Gods or whatever. That puts us in a pretty nice place as we come out strong without needing the typical combo draws that Burning Tree Emissary has made a career from.
We will certainly need at least another two-drop in here to really have any sort of consistency, but let's hold off on that for now and work our way up the curve.
At four mana, we have some nice aggressive options once again. Ashcloud Phoenix is a great fit for this deck as it adds two red mana to the count while being very difficult to kill. This means more red pips for longer and your Nykthos mana will help make the flipping of this not so difficult. This is a great followup to Hammer of Purphoros as well.
And I like the concept of Fanatic of Mogis in any aggressive oriented red devotion list. While it is not doing a lot for our pips itself, it is a reward and a big burst of damage out of nowhere for a deck that runs mostly permanents. Purphoros is the card I am most skeptical of, but it does provide some additional direct damage and when active, is one of the bigger threats we can produce. We lack the token making that the more dedicated token decks do, but we can still combo off of Purphoros in a couple of nice ways.
-Goblin Rabblemaster provides 4 damage the turn he hits play and a steady 2 after while also being a nice synergy with the activated ability on Purphoros.
-Ashcloud Phoenix gets to deal 2 damage every time it blinks out, making its natural 2 damage that much more dangerous for the opponent.
-Prophetic Flamespeaker loves even just a little additional power as it takes any that it has and dishes out twice the pain.
I think there are enough perks here to at least warrant a try for Purphoros, so I will be doing so.
Once we hit five mana though, we get to the really good stuff that red is running everywhere else. Both Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker and Stormbreath Dragon are incredibly powerful right now. In a deck that is abusing Nykthos, theoretically we can have some explosive draws with both of these cards and often in multiples.
It can be a bit scary running four copies of each of these though just because they have a chance of being stuck in your hand and being awfully clunky as a result. These five drops are strong enough that I wanted to try to solve the problem rather than moving around it. That is where my good old friend Generator Servant comes in.
With Generator Servant as our other two-drop, our deck has an additional way to Threaten explosive early game draws. A turn three Stormbreath Dragon or Sarkhan is a tough thing for any deck to be facing down. Beyond that, just playing a Rabblemaster and Flamespeaker, both with haste in a turn, can be a really strong play. Generator Servant gives us a little more fuel for where we are trying to go. While it is not necessarily a threat on its own, few opponent's will be able to take that risk and will often use removal on it instantly as to avoid any disaster that might occur should you untap. This rounds out a really threatening early game and also acts as a strong transition card for us, which I think might just be perfect.
There is a chance that the full four Sarkhans alongside four copies of Dragon will just be too much, in which case I would want to replace it with something similar, like a single copy of Chandra Pyromaster, for example. Dictate of the Twin Gods is another five drop that works well with our Fanatic, Eidolon, and Purphoros, but it is not a great thing to cast off of Servant and I think it might just be too fancy for what we are actually trying to do here.
In its most streamlined form, I think this deck should be aggressive and have ways to take advantage of Nykthos without relying on it. The following 60 cards seem like a great start toward those goals.
The numbers on Radiant Fountain is still something I am messing with. I really like drawing at least one copy of the card in many match ups as it can mean a world of difference as we tend to return a similar amount of pressure, so any space is welcomed. That said, colorless lands can certainly mess up our curve at times and we already have four to dedicate to Nykthos. I think we can almost certainly get away with at least two Fountains, but three is where things blur, so I will continue to test that.
Otherwise, we have a threat dense aggressive shell here that can occasionally just combo off on turn four or five and win via a surge in mana from Nykthos. Without Burning Tree Emissary around, we lose the nut draw of having a four drop on turn three alongside some 2/2s, but we can still use Nykthos in the turns after that to go from our early and mid game into an explosive end game where burn is sure to be flying despite us not actually dedicating cards to burn spells.
In terms of a good place to begin with a sideboard, we want to keep our devotion needs in mind while also looking for some answers to problems that we might run into. I can see our deck struggling with a swarm of tokens, for example, and we have to decide how we want to attack that. On the one hand, Circle of Flame does a decent job of enabling devotion while slowing down a horde of 1/1s just fine. On the other hand, is does not do much in the face of of an active Ascendancy, which is a card we will likely struggle against.
At the same time, a card like Anger of the Gods is quite appealing for us because we have few ways to effectively deal with an active graveyard out of things like Sidisi Whip, so not only do we pick up a sweeper against aggressive decks, but we pick up a utility spell against some graveyard decks as well. Burn Away is another reasonable option and probably deserves a few slots in the board too. Right now, these are the 15 I am testing.
3 Anger of the Gods
3 Circle of Flame
3 Phyrexian Revoker
2 Burn Away
2 Ember Swallower
2 Chandra, Pyromaster
This deck seems like it has a lot of promise, especially as new toys for the mono colored lovers out there get released in Fate Reforged. I think the tools are there now to build an aggressive devotion list though and I will be testing the above deck to see if it goes anywhere.
Have any suggestions or experience with Mono Red Devotion? I would love to hear about it in the comments below! As always, thanks for reading and I will see you in Omaha!