GW Devotion drew the attention of everyone in the room after its dominating display at Grand Prix Miami, but the impending release of Dragons of Tarkir meant the format was a lame duck. Focus turned to card spoilers and the new format, so GW Devotion seemed to fall off the radar. Although though there may not have been much discussion of it, GW Devotion was among the top archetypes in the Standard metagame before the transition to Dragons of Tarkir. I believe GW Devotion was the best deck in the pre-Dragons of Tarkir format, so it's my go-to option for attacking the new format.
With the new set now legal, GW Devotion has already demonstrated that not only is it still competitive in the metagame, but it has incorporated new tools to further strengthen its strategy and grow as an archetype. Two new cards in particular, Deathmist Raptor and Dromoka's Command, are natural additions to a GW Devotion deck that is already well-suited to utilize them.
Here's the decklist Chris Andersen used to reach the Top 4 of the SCG Invitational last weekend:
DECKID=1233925 Deathmist Raptor
Deathmist Raptor is easily adopted into the GW Devotion strategy. It serves as a robust source of board presence that is useful for pressuring the opponent, blocking, and adding to Devotion for Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. As a recurrable creature, Deathmist Raptor is a source of card advantage useful for outlasting opposing removal spells, and it gives GW Devotion inevitability when fighting a war of attrition.
Deathmist Raptor is so strong in GW Devotion because the deck is already designed with creating Manifests and flipping them in mind. Between Mastery of the Unseen and Whisperwood Elemental, GW Devotion has the ability to create new Manifests turn after turn. The deck is just about half creatures, most of them low-cost, so these Manifests can easily and reliably be flipped to trigger the graveyard recursion ability of Deathmist Raptor.
With deathtouch, Deathmist Raptor attacks into Courser of Kruphix, and it trades with Siege Rhino and Tasigur, the Golden Fang. It's an incredible attacker that is impossible to profitably block, but the body is too big to ignore. Over the course of a game Deathmist Raptor effectively puts the opponent under siege by constantly attacking their life total and their resources. Eventually multiple Deathmist Raptor will accumulate and inevitably run the opponent out of options.
Deathmist Raptor is strong with other copies of Deathmist Raptor. Deathmist Raptor can be returned from the graveyard to the battlefield facedown, so it can be flipped later to recur any other Deathmist Raptor that may hit the graveyard. Given enough mana, just a pair of Deathmist Raptor creates a recursion engine because one copy in play is able to return a copy in the graveyard to play face down, which can repeat the process if the original copy dies. This is particularly useful on defense as an endless supply of blockers against large creatures, but it will fall apart against multiple removal spells.
Deathmist Raptor provides GW Devotion with an incredible amount of card advantage and resiliency. GW Devotion was already packed to the brim with card advantage, and Deathmist Raptor makes it simply silly to try to beat GW Devotion with attrition. Deathmist Raptor makes racing difficult because it's so great on defense, and of course Mastery of the Unseen is an incredible lifegain engine. It's nearly impossible to grind out GW Devotion with card advantage, or to bleed it out with damage, so that leaves opponents with very little recourse.
Rather than being forced into a highly aggressive role against control decks, GW Devotion is now more capable of grinding out control over a long attrition battle. In fact, inevitability in the UBx control matchups may now be squarely in GW Devotion's favor. The control deck has a limited number of removal spells in deck, and between Deathmist Raptor and Mastery of the Unseen, over a long game GW Devotion can generate far more threats than the opponent can answer. Remember, Deathmist Raptor can be returned to the battlefield facedown as protection against Ugin, the Spirit Dragon.
There is very little if any graveyard hate being played in Standard besides Anafenza, the Foremost, so Deathmist Raptor is free to run roughshod. As a 3/3, it even dodges Elspeth, Sun's Champion.
To fit Deathmist Raptor, Chris Andersen moved all copies of Fleecemane Lion to the sideboard. Fleecemane Lion is an incredible card and plays an important role in the deck's strategy. Deathmist Raptor plays a similar early game role as a source of board presence that doesn't rely on mana acceleration, and in the role of a card that becomes even more powerful in the late game as a resilient threat. A full 50% more expensive to cast, Deathmist Raptor is not as good as Fleecemane Lion in the early game, but in the late game its recursion ability outclasses Fleecemane Lion's Monstrous ability. For these reasons I am comfortable cutting Fleecemane Lion from the maindeck for Deathmist Raptor. Dedicating sideboard space to Fleecemane Lion allows for the best of both worlds in matchups where both cards shine. This combination allows GW Devotion to take on a very aggressive position that is atypical for Green Devotion strategies. Dromoka's Command
The second major Dragons of Tarkir addition to GW Devotion is Dromoka's Command. GW Devotion needs to play spells to access removal beyond its Polukranos, World Eater. Banishing Light used to fill this role, where it was played as a one-of or two-of in the maindeck to provide some disruptive power. A bit of disruption goes a long way, and having access to some removal adds another facet to the GW Devotion game plan and makes it all the more difficult to beat.
With Dragons of Tarkir here, Dromoka's Command fills the role of disruption spell. Dromoka's Command is not as broad in application as Banishing Light, but it does come with its own flexibility and advantages. Between its four modes, Dromoka's Command offers the GW Devotion deck various options that give it a strategic and tactical advantage in games.
The two slots in the deck occupied by Dromoka's Command are dedicated to disruption, so the two removal modes of the command, "Target creature you control fights target creature you don't control" and "target player sacrifices an enchantment" are the most important, and they also offer the easiest opportunities for generating card advantage.
The fight ability is the primary removal mode, and with 30 creatures in the deck, there are plenty of good targets. The ability to put a +1/+1 counter on a creature is especially useful with the fight ability, because the counter will be applied first, and the power/toughness boost can be used to fight a creature that otherwise would have been just out of reach. For example, this combination of modes allows Voyaging Satyr to take down a Goblin Rabblemaster, or allows Courser of Kruphix to destroy Mantis Rider. The fight ability is strong on Deathmist Raptor, because with deathtouch it can take down anything, and it can be returned to play at no loss of card advantage.
The ability to make an opponent sacrifice an enchantment is almost good enough for the maindeck in Standard, but it's a bit narrow, especially for a proactive deck like GW Devotion. Having this ability on Dromoka's Command means it is good enough for the maindeck because if the opponent has no enchantments, the spell will still have value. In the spots where it's good, like against Courser of Kruphix or Whip of Erebos, the sacrifice enchantment ability is excellent.
The +1/+1 can occasionally stop a burn spell as removal or a Bile Blight, but it's best as a combat trick. The fact that Dromoka's Command is in the format means that opponents need to be much more careful about creature combat with GW Devotion because they risk being blown out by Dromoka's Command changing the math.
The ability to prevent damage from an instant or sorcery spell is great hate against burn spells as creature removal, and it can stop an aggressive deck from stealing a game by winning with a burn spell. This ability is more relevant now than ever given the resurgence of Red Deck Wins in the metagame.
Dromoka's Command may seem like a lot of work, but it's all worth it considering that two modes can be chosen, meaning it will often create a card advantage two-for-one or an on-board tempo advantage, if not both. Compared to the next best option, Banishing Light, it's not vulnerable to being destroyed by opposing enchantment removal, including their Dromoka's Command, and it's also unaffected by Ugin, the Spirit Dragon.Tuning and the Sideboard
As far as the decklist, if GW Devotion is not very popular, Temur Sabertooth isn't necessary. It's certainly very good, and having such a strong late-game option is great, but it might be too "win-more." It's weak against two mana removal spells like Bile Blight and Lightning Strike, and it doesn't block particularly well. While it is commonly trimmed to three, I have no desire to play less than the full four Genesis Hydra, which is very much this deck's Bloodbraid Elf and much more. I'll gladly cut Temur Sabertooth to make room, and I would return it if GW Devotion is popular in the metagame.
In the sideboard, I don't like Hornet Nest, which is theoretically great against red decks, but it's an accident waiting to happen because it walks right into Goblin Heelcutter. Cutting them opens up a slot for the fourth Fleecemane Lion, which is a very fine card against monored but has significant value in many other matchups, compared to the very narrow Hornet Nest. This sort of tuning maximizes the value of each slot in a deck and increases the deck's overall power relative to the metagame, at the cost of an edge in a specific matchup. In this case it's a free change, given my distaste for Hornet Nest.
There is now an open spot for Valorous Stance, a card I consider a necessity because of how efficiently it destroys so many important creatures.
Surge of Righteousness is serviceable against Siege Rhino and decent against Tasigur, the Golden Fang, but it plays on the terms of their attack step and doesn't allow for an immediate end-of-turn tempo boost like Valorous Stance. Valorous Stance is also critical against the mirror match and against RG Monsters, and it's strong against Abzan Aggro. Valorous Stance also comes with indestructible ability, which is more of an afterthought but truly a useful tool.
Surge of Righteousness is a fine card against red aggro, but it's not great against the best red creature of them all: Goblin Rabblemaster. It's also a two mana removal spell that's a net tempo negative against their many one mana creatures, so it's not a good plan. My plan against red aggro is to flood the board, prevent them from finding profitable attacks, and getting out of reach of burn spells with lifegain from Mastery of the Unseen. If I were to dedicate slots to the red matchup, I would rather have Nylea's Disciple. I have found success against red with this deck, but if it becomes very popular and proves a challenge I would dedicate sideboard space to beating it.
Cutting Surge of Righteousness opens up room for as many Valorous Stance as I need.
A card I am not happy with is Nissa, Worldwaker. It's excellent against UBx control decks, but those decks have declined in the metagame. Abzan Control and Sultai Reanimator are poised to gain ground in the metagame on the back of the unholy triumvirate of Sidisi, Undead Vizier, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, and Sylvan Wayfinder, and Nissa, Worldwaker is very unimpressive against that strategy. Our 4/4 creatures are dominated by their creatures, including Siege Rhino, and it's hard to protect the planeswalker. Nissa, Worldwaker is also very weak against Dragonlord Silumgar, which I expect to become popular in all sorts of UBx decks.
Hornet Queen is quite strong against large creatures like Siege Rhino, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, and Sidisi, Undead Vizier, and it dominates Dragonlord Silumgar. It also trumps the Elspeth, Sun's Champion that so often accompanies these creatures. Seven mana is not a big hurdle for this deck, because it is a green devotion deck after all, an archetype that has historically played multiple Hornet Queen. It's not strong against sweepers like a planeswalker would be, but it's a perfect trump in grindy games and in the battles for board presence this deck so often finds itself in.
Another option, which has been popular on MTGO, is Ugin, the Spirit Dragon in the sideboard or even in the maindeck, often in multiples. The card is certainly powerful, especially with all of the Manifests this deck can muster, and the mana cost is not prohibitive, though it is clunky in the opening hand. It's a great trump in the mirror and against Abzan, Sultai Reanimator, and the mirror, and it can even be found by Genesis Hydra, so it's a perfect sideboard one-of.
Without Nissa, Worldwalker in the sideboard, to help hedge against UBx I have included a single Display of Dominance, which is great against their removal spells and against Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, which the deck is weak to without Banishing Light. I also like the card against Sultai Reanimator, against Sultai Charm and Whip of Erebos in particular.Decklist
That brings the decklist to:
Turn to the comments section with any questions or ideas to share!