About a year ago the narrative around Standard was that Devotion [to some color or other] was an abusive mechanic, and things were only going to get worse and worse...and better never ever. The first Standard Pro Tour of the year was a showcase of Monoblue Devotion decks, with Monoblack Devotion quickly engaging blue in a duel for dominance in the metagame.
Red-based Devotion decks with Boros Reckoner and green-based ones with Arbor Colossus added RRR and GGG to the on-battlefield pip counts; but the most powerful exemplars of the mechanic remained, until the release of Khans of Tarkir, Master of Waves and Grey Merchant of Asphodel.
Did Devotion get "worse"? ... Well, not really.
Both Monoblue and Monoblack Devotion decks continued to be competitive throughout the season. But the idea that more better cards building towards more abusive Devotion counts never really bore fruit. In fact, in today's Standard we have basically a set of splashy, updated, Green-based Devotion decks...but not much of anything else.
Where went the Masters? The Merchants?
What seemed like some unbelievably powerful creatures a year ago are barely played today, or not played at all.
I can't claim that I figured out how to completely resurrect the mechanic, but I did start asking myself about the viability of some monocolored decks. Siege Rhino is great and all, but I wanted to see if there was an angle to borrow from last year's signatures.
This is just an idea of what a straight black aggro deck might look like:
There are lots of cool 2/1 creatures you can play for one mana, which can really help you push the pace, and with a lot of consistency. Some of those 2/1 creatures, like Tormented Hero, were already effective in previous Standard beatdown decks. But what about the new one-drop?
This creature is CRAZY good!
There is a fairly common scenario where you just attack with Bloodsoaked Champion, get it killed in combat (hopefully trading with something on the other side) and then just re-play it the same turn. Unless the opponent has something like Anger of the Gods or Banishing Light, this is a really tricky threat to deal with in the long term.
Speaking of which, Mardu Skullhunter was another new card I threw in to try. This Ravenous Rats with upside is sometimes pretty powerful, but sometimes a liability. There are decks that are actively trying to get big monsters out of their graveyards at a discount, and Mardu Skullhunter can actually help them sometimes. Or setting up delve. Or even Pharika, God of Affliction. I think it is still worth trying in a deck like this, but just keep in mind the relatively restrictive window you can play it [for value], and that getting a random +1 card advantage event isn't actually the be-all and end-all.
I've used this card as kind of a weird Overrun more than anything else... Play it out with three or so guys already on the battlefield, then send. Some of your guys (most of which are little) will die, but they'll die valiantly, helping you to race...and you can get them back later, anyway.
Between Bloodsoaked Champion and Whip of Erebos, this tiny guys deck has more of a card advantage / attrition angle than you might initially guess. Just make sure you know what you're doing when you tap that Whip!
A couple of the creatures in this deck enter the battlefield tapped. You can still Whip back Mardu Skullhunter for value... But post-combat, when you can trigger Raid. Whip of Erebos doesn't do much with Tormented Hero, on the other hand.
The deck itself is more of a thought experiment than a serious swing at the metagame (though I'm pretty sure if control were more of a thing it would have mad trouble with this deck). But I've played a few dozen games with it, and some very interesting situations have come up. Today we'll look at some more strategic / planning type scenarios.SCENARIO ONE
This game was pretty frustrating for us from the start. We actually didn't hit our second land drop until something like turn six!
But our deck is chock full of 2/1 threats for B, so we were able to at least play one per turn for several consecutive turns.
The opponent is a Jeskai Control deck. He has had answers, but because most of his answers cost two or three mana, we've been able to continue to pressure him despite our slow mana start.
Also we drew a ton of Bloodsoaked Champions, which the opponent has been really wary of answering conventionally.
At this long point in the game, the opponent has successfully pinned one of our Bloodsoaked Champions under a Banishing Light, and removed another from the game with Anger of the Gods (along with a Mardu Skullhunter that stole a Negate).
Ultimately, we've drawn some lands, cast a Sign in Blood, and weathered the opponent's voluminous removal. He, too, has weathered our stream of 2/1 creatures and is trying to stabilize on a Prognostic Sphinx.
At this point in the game, he has only five life though; and two cards in hand to potentially defend his Prognostic Sphinx. These cards are in his graveyard:
DissolveMagma JetMagma JetMaster the WayNegateAnger of the GodsNegateTormenting Voice
We have sixteen life and six cards in hand:
Mardu SkullhunterBile BlightHerald of TormentMogis's MarauderHero's DownfallPain Seer
Our graveyard has six cards in it as well, the most important being a pair of Bloodsoaked Champions.
Facing off against the opponent's Prognostic Sphinx is a Herald of Torment floating over four lands.
We just pushed a Hero's Downfall with a Temple, and drew the aforementioned Pain Seer. What card do you lead off with, if any?
This is game two against the same Jeskai Control deck. We got him!
Our opener was pretty solid, with a Tormented Hero on the first turn, and a pair of Mardu Skullhunters to potentially murder the opponent on initiative.
He would have none of that, though, and immediately shot our Tormented Hero with a Magma Jet.
Deciding not to raw dog a Mardu Skullhunter, we went with a turn two Thoughtseize, seeing:
Banishing LightDig Through TimeJeskai CharmBattlefield ForgeIsland
Our remaining hand is:
Whip of ErebosHerald of TormentMardu SkullhunterMardu SkullhunterPolluted Delta
What card do you Thoughtseize?
Many turns have gone by and our Mardu Skullhunters are still in grip, believe it or not.
Though we are the beatdown, we've somehow let the game, rather life totals, go completely the wrong way. The opponent is at 15 but we are down to 9, in part because of cards like Thoughtseize (we have yet another one on the stack now).
The good news is that the opponent only has three cards in hand:
Anger of the GodsMagma JetResolute Archangel
The bad news is that we have no beatdown to speak of and are facing off against a Keranos, God of Storms.
Our graveyard includes no Bloodsoaked Champions, though our hand includes two.
We have five total lands and a Whip of Erebos in play.
Our hand is pretty dense. In addition to the two Mardu Skullhunters and two Bloodsoaked Champions you already know about, we have one copy of Erebos, God of the Dead.
Knowing all that, what card do you Thoughtseize?
This is Make the Play Monday!
Every week here at TCGplayer.com, I present one or more scenarios that challenge TCGplayer readers to make in-game Magic decisions.
Our philosophy is that Magic is a game that essentially strings together decision after decision, and that making better decisions, over time, will lead to better results.
I have my opinions, but don't, in this context, ask you to "just take it from me." Every week, in addition to my take on each situation, I recruit a respected member of the tournament Magic community to serve as a Celebrity Guest, weighing in as well.
All TCGplayer.com readers are invited to put their answers to the week's questions in the comments below. One reader who agrees with me will receive a $25 TCGplayer.com gift certificate, as will one reader who agrees with our Celebrity Guest.
Ready for a chance at fabulous prizes (while sharpening those decision making skills)?
Answer these in the comments below:
1. What card do you lead off with, if any?2. What card do you Thoughtseize?3. What card do you Thoughtseize?
See you Friday!