Journey into Nyx is completely spoiled, so now we can look ahead to the future with all information available. For the past few weeks I've been digging in and analyzing the new cards with an eye towards the future Standard format. With everything revealed, we are starting to get a clear picture of what Standard is going to look like heading into summer. The third set of a block always has powerful cards for Standard, and Journey into Nyx continues the trend. This latest set has loads of playable cards that are sure to impact Standard at some point during their lifetimes.
For the past few articles I've been focused on exploring some new brews, but today I am going back to the old Standard stand-by, Monoblack Devotion. This was the de-facto "best deck" before the new set and it has a lot riding on Journey into Nyx. Leading into Born of the Gods, there were multiple excellent black cards spoiled early on that overshadowed all others, setting the stage for a dominant Monoblack Devotion deck. Journey into Nyx doesn't contain such obvious staples for Monoblack Devotion as Bile Blight and Drown in Sorrow, but it brings its fair share of options to the table.
Journey into Nyx contains some useful new black options, and the set also greatly expands the possibility for dipping into other colors, between the much-anticipated arrival of Temple of Malady for Golgari and the endless splash-options made possible by Mana Confluence
Today I am going to cover everything, sharing my opinions on just how and why some of these new cards might be used, or why not, and if so, how to best take advantage of them. Most of these cards won't make a big impact, but I think it's important to cover everything and provide reason as to why some cards do not make the cut just as it's important to explain why some cards do make the cut.
Where we last left off before Journey into Nyx, this deck was winning a Grand Prix:
That is a pretty representative stock list with some tuned numbers for flavor. The archetype has been developed over a period of months, and all of the card choices in Monoblack reflect the greater format in which it competes. At this point in the game the decklist numbers are very well developed, and there is a pretty high barrier to entry for new cards in the archetype, but it's important to always re-evaluate. As the Standard format develops, so will the deck. Here are some of the new options Monoblack has at its disposal:
Functionally a reprint of Mesmeric Fiend, I can say with some certainty that this card is constructed playable. This card is essentially discard tacked onto a creature, but it's different from Ravenous Rats, which always generates one card but gets rid of their worst one. Brain Maggot is going to take their best card, but if removed the card advantage is erased. Where something like Ravenous Rats can just be ignored, Brain Maggot tends to get a big target on its head. Forcing an opponent to remove Brain Maggot can be a tempo play. The other thing to consider is that if you use Brain Maggot and win with the card still removed, then you generated very real advantage similar to a bona fide discard spell.
In application, Brain Maggot is a weak creature and weak discard spell, so it's always going to be less efficient than a normal B-costed discard spell and less efficient than some 1B 2/2 bear. Brain Maggot is the sort of card that's worthwhile when the owner can take advantage of it beyond just the discard, meaning they can somehow abuse the creature body, whether it be with equipment or something like Athreos, God of Passage. In the case of Brain Maggot, it also synergizes with enchantments.
As far as Monoblack Devotion, I don't think Brain Maggot is better than any of the current maindeck options because the discard is not reliable nor the creature a relevant offensive clock. I could envision a theoretical control-based metagame where it occupies a maindeck slot formerly dedicated to creature removal, but I don't think that metagame will ever materialize. As a sideboard card, Brain Maggot is a bit inefficient, but it is the next best discard option past Duress.
Dictate of Erebos
I have fond memories of Grave Pact, and I remember old Standard formats where it was one of the defining features of the metagame and actually defined entire matchups. I remember that Grave Pact was a huge card in mirror matchups, and the player that resolved a Grave Pact would win the game handily. These decks often took advantage of sacrificial effects, and would turn to cards like Nantuko Husk or Greater Gargadon, but the lesson learned is that Grave Pact is an incredible way to break a stalemate and get a huge edge in attrition matchups that feature creatures and removal on both sides of the table.
I think Dictate of Erebos could have a place in Monoblack Devotion, and against no deck more than the mirror, which will be unable to remove Dicate of Erebos. This card might also be strong against other hybrid creature/removal decks like Jund Midrange. The enchantment is essentially insurance against removal, and it ensures that an opponent won't be able to use removal to get ahead on board. It forces opponents to awkwardly sequence their spells, either spewing tempo and holding all their creatures until they remove all of yours, or to fight your battle and through the Dictate of Erebos, which they are unlikely to win. The flash nature of Dictate of Erebos also gives it value, ideally being cast in response to opposing removal. I like this as a sideboard one-of and recommend giving it a try just to get a feel for what it can do. It's also an excellent source of black devotion.
Extinguish All Hope
In Standard this is very close to a board sweeper, though there are a good number of enchantment creatures in Standard like Herald of Torment, and more to come with Journey into Nyx now being legal. This card actually seems designed to play next to enchantments as a top-end board sweeper for an enchantment control deck, and I'd bet it will be a major player in the block format.
For Monoblack Devotion, I think it's a bit clunky. The biggest problem I have is that it's a sweeper on both sides of the board, and Monoblack Devotion generally wins by attacking while casting pin-point removal spells, like a fish deck. This sweeper pigeonholes the deck into the reactive role, which makes Extinguish All Hope a sideboard card. It could be effective in matchups like Jund Midrange where Monoblack Devotion takes on a very controlling role, but even in these matchups Monoblack Devotion wants to be aggressive and develop the board with cards like Desecration Demon. We might see a couple of these in the sideboard, but I would not play it unless the metagame dictates it necessary. As it stands the card does not solve any problems.
This card is excellent, and it's yet another two-powered, one mana black creature, which joins Rakdos Cackler and Tormented Hero to complete the mono-black aggro tri-force. This card, which doubles as a creature buff, might be the best of the bunch. This card goes right into an aggressive deck but it has no place in Monoblack Devotion, which requires creatures to have the flexibility of blocking, and has no use for this forth, properly-costed vanilla threat.
King Macar, the Gold-Cursed
I just realized that this is King Midas, from a flavor standpoint. When I first saw this it seemed really good, and Monoblack Devotion is the perfect deck for forcing through a creature turn after turn with removal spells. Functionally, it's not going to do much if the opponent already has a creature because they will simply block, but once you have King Macar, the Gold-Cursed
tapped, the opponent will not be able to play any creatures because you'll just untap and kill the best one. King Macar, the Gold-Cursed will be best against midrange green creature decks that tend to play expensive threat, so I could see running one of these in the sideboard against green tap-out like Jund Midrange. Overall I think this card is weak in Standard because it's bad when you are behind, a win-more card.
Master of the Feast
This card stands out from the others in the set in terms of raw power. This card is quite hard to evaluate, as giving opponents cards is among the worst things in the game; usually the worst beyond giving them actual board position. That being said, large, cheap threats, especially with evasion, are highly desirable. A card like this is quite hard to evaluate in theory, but essentially you are giving up card advantage for tempo. There is a tradeoff, and the line is drawn somewhere, but it comes down to context. A card that made the opponent draw seven would be bad, but if it were a one mana 20/20 flyer it would be quite good; though if the format had cards like Swords to Plowshares it might be quite bad.
Master of the Feast seems excellent in matchups without much removal and poor in those with a lot of it. The current Standard format, which revolves around devotion, green aggro splashing removal, and Supreme Verdict control, I think Master of the Feast is too much of a liability as a maindeck card, though it could have a place in the fastest Monoblack Aggro decks.
In terms of Monoblack Devotion, I don't think Master of the Feast is maindeck material. It goes against the hybrid strategy of Monoblack Devotion, which seeks to exhaust opposing resources and win with tempo. The thing is, Monoblack Devotion tends to adapt its strategy for each game, and I could see Master of the Feast being a very powerful tool out of the sideboard arsenal. I don't think it's an auto-grab against any of the top-tier decks right now, but it's something to keep in mind going forward.
This card is simply too inconsistent for Monoblack Devotion, and the clunky three-drop competes with Hero's Downfall in the same slot.
This card competes with Mutavault, the best card in Standard, and with cards like Temple of Deceit. While offering great late-game potential, the biggest problem with Squelching Leeches is that it is underpowered in the early game. Assuming no non-basics, it will come down on turn four as a 4/4. Monoblack Devotion already has access to Desecration Demon, which is a more reliable threat on its own, and it does not stretch the manabase. In late-game situations, where Squelching Leeches may shine, the 6/6 Desecration Demon will probably offer the same functionality.
Worst Fears, while powerful, is far too inconsistent. I would rather have another discard spell against Sphinx's Revelation decks
Temple of Malady
Possibly the biggest card for Monoblack Devotion from Journey into Nyx is Temple of Malady.
The Golgari scry land is finally here, and that means Monoblack Devotion can finally support a green splash as it could previously support blue, white, and eventually red. Green is quite desirable, and Abrupt Decay fits right into the Monoblack Devotion strategy for the maindeck, while Golgari Charm is an amazing sideboard option. Players splashed these cards in the past without a proper manabase, and I expect the green splash to become the most popular of all splashes going forward.
The last card I would like to mention is Mana Confluence, which opens up the possibility to all sorts of five-color black shenanigans. The only thing limiting what Monoblack Devotion can do now is its own life total. Obviously taking damage is quite bad, especially for a deck with Thoughtseize and Underworld Connections, but the deck now has the ability to do anything, so it's going to have to stretch and get used to its new abilities.
I leave you with this design by Gerard Fabiano, as an example of how far black devotion can be stretched without Journey into Nyx, to give an idea of how much is possible now:
What do you think will make an impact in Standard black devotion? What's overrated? What's underrated? Just how crazy can the deck get?
Until next week,