Dragons of Tarkir will be released at the end of the month and will certainly impact the Standard metagame, but there are still over two good weeks of this current format to play. Last weekend I competed in Standard Grand Prix Miami, and although I fell short of the Top 8, I finished 9-0 on the first day with GW Devotion, the breakout archetype of the tournament that put two copies into the finals and is the new Standard deck to beat going forward. Today I'll share my experiences with the archetype and provide a guide on piloting the deck in your next Standard event.
GW Devotion is a Green ramp deck based on a core of acceleration creatures including Elvish Mystic, Sylvan Caryatid, and Voyaging Satyr. As a one-mana creature, Elvish Mystic is the most efficient and leads to the most explosive starts, notably turn two Courser of Kruphix. With hexproof and three toughness, Sylvan Caryatid is the most robust, and it's also a source of white mana. Voyaging Satyr is capable of producing an extra mana of any available color and is occasionally useful for freeing a fresh Temple of Plenty, but it's best when re-using Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx.
Courser of Kruphix may be the best card in Standard, and this deck takes full advantage. While obviously best on turn two, it's also great on turn three when following a two-mana ramp creature because it allows for the possibility of a free land that turn.
Courser of Kruphix is especially excellent in this deck because of its interactions with Mastery of the Unseen. A Mastery of the Unseen activation allows for fresh look at the top of the deck and another chance at finding a free land. Courser of Kruphix revealing the top card also makes Mastery of the Unseen more powerful as a Manifest engine because it allows for greater control over what is being manifested, whether it means holding back in order to draw a situationally good card or Manifesting away a dead card. Knowledge of the top card also allows for more precision planning in regards to Manifesting a creature with the aim of flipping it and gaining life that turn.
Mastery of the Unseen is the defining card in the archetype and the engine that drives the deck. It provides a nearly endless supply of card advantage and board presence that is impossible to exhaust through attrition. One of the biggest problems inherent to traditional ramp strategies is that they run the risk of generating massive amounts of mana with nothing to show for it, and Mastery of the Unseen solves that problem. The lifegain clause of Mastery of the Unseen is also extremely relevant in this deck as a way to stabilize and eventually lock the opponent out of the game, especially when played in multiples. The high number of cheap creatures mean the board will often be full of creatures, and their low cost means they can easily be flipped for lifegain without significant tempo loss. Because Mastery of the Unseen provides such a strong late-game lifegain engine, it's often correct for this deck not to trade creatures with the opponent, rather take damage and look towards the long-term plan of locking them out with insurmountable lifegain.
Whisperwood Elemental drives this deck as a source of card advantage and tempo. Ramp creatures allow for it to be cast as early as turn three, and it demands an answer or will take over the game by itself. Sometimes it will Manifest a powerful creature, putting the opponent into a particularly tough spot, but even blank 2/2 creatures are quite significant in a Standard format so based around attrition. Whisperwood Elemental is also natural insurance against board sweepers, which would otherwise give this deck issues.
Unlike a traditional ramp deck this doesn't play any expensive cards like Hornet Queen or Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. The top end is composed of Genesis Hydra, which serves as a mana sink and Power Play but also as an efficient value and tempo play. This deck is designed to be able to cast a four-mana Genesis Hydra where X=2 as a miniature Bloodbraid Elf and hit a spell a significant amount of the time, but it is great at any spot up on the curve, especially when X=5 and covers every other card in the deck. With much mana available and X > number of cards in library, it's something like "Genesis Tutor" for its ability to put any permanent into play, which is relevant considering that this deck often plays very long games and has access to a variety of potential one-of options.
Speaking of one-of options, I did not include Temur Sabertooth in my GP list but the winner did play one. It's quite useful as a way to rebuy creatures like Polukranos, World Eater, Genesis Hydra, and sideboard Reclamation Sage, but also as a way to return any useful Manifests to hand for casting. It's especially useful against the mirror match, which often turns into a huge stalemate, as a way to break parity. It's a card I'd recommend having access to in the 75 going forward.
Polukranos, World Eater is a roleplayer that fills the middle of the curve with a powerful piece of board presence. It attacks well, it blocks well, and it gives this green deck a valuable source of creature removal. It's potent combined with the massive amount of mana this deck can generate with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx.
Fleecemane Lion may seem a bit out of place in a ramp deck, but it's part of the glue that holds this deck together. Fleecemane Lion is a potent threat against every opponent, whether it be pressuring control players or serving as a brick wall on defense. Monstrous makes it a must-answer threat, and because this is a deck full of must-answer threats, it is very effective as a way to draw out removal spells and clear the way for the heavy hitters. As a late game topdeck or manifest Fleecemane Lion retains its power with its monstrous ability, making it a true all-star in this deck.
The final slots in this decklist are two Banishing Light, which provide this deck with a bit of valuable interaction. This deck is extremely proactive and attempts to go over the top of its opponents, and it plays little disruption. Banishing Light carries a heavy load as an answer to any problem permanent, and over the weekend it took many opponents by surprise. Removal spells can be extremely effective but tend to have Diminishing Returns; with just two removal spells this deck is always glad to cast Banishing Light and gets a lot of strategic value from it. Banishing Light adds an extra dimension to the deck and it does its part to keep opponents honest.
The manabase is straightforward, featuring playsets of Windswept Heath and Temple of Plenty. Mana Confluence helps to make the mana more consistent at the cost of a few life points. Blossoming Sands is another option for the manabase and was a one-of in both finals lists. It makes the manabase a bit more consistent and it's a fine option going forward.
The sideboard allows the deck to incorporate powerful reactive cards against specific opponents. Valorous Stance is the best tool against Abzan decks that play Siege Rhino and Courser of Kruphix. It also functions as a counter to removal spells like Hero's Downfall. It's excellent against Abzan Aggro, Abzan Control, and other Green Ramp decks like the mirror.
Glare of Heresy is a bit narrow but excellent against decks like RW, which presents multiple important targets. It's also strong against UW Heroic. Glare of Heresy is also useful against Abzan Control and is important as a way to Remove Elspeth, Sun's Champion.
Reclamation Sage is useful in a variety of matchups, including the mirror and against RW with Outpost Siege and Chained to the Rocks.
The sideboard also contains threats that allow the deck to take a more aggressive stance against controlling decks like UB, Sultai, and Abzan Control. Nissa, Worldwaker pulls a lot of weight against Ugin, the Spirit Dragon in particular because it produces colorless threats, but it's a strong threat against any opponent hoping to win with attrition through removal spells and that doesn't present many threats of their own.
Ajani, Mentor of Heroes is a consistent source of card advantage but also a threat in its own right with its ability to add three counters, which can Ambush a planeswalker or the opponent.
Perhaps my favorite card in the sideboard is Boon Satyr, which was an unexpected and powerful blowout against many opponents throughout the weekend. It's great against control decks because as an instant it can be cast on the opponent's turn to steal back the initiative. With Bestow it is also strong as a pseudo haste creature that can push through damage to finish off a planeswalker or even the opponent.
Here's the list I recommend going forward:
Here's a guide against the most popular Standard matchups.RW Midrange
GW Devotion is very much designed to beat RW Midrange. GW plays more powerful cards, and it's capable of clogging up the ground and holding off creatures from RW, especially considering the general movement away from Stormbreath Dragon. The full GW endgame of Mastery of the Unseen gaining massive life is all but insurmountable for RW.
RW is capable of aggressive draws featuring a two-drop or Goblin Rabblemaster backed up by tempo plays like Chained to the Rocks and Stoke the Flames, which can put GW too far behind to recover. It can also play a long game with Outpost Siege and Soulfire Grand Master, both of which the GW deck has few answers to in game one.
The best way to beat RW is to clog the board as quickly as possible, and that includes things like Genesis Hydra for two as a way to stop Goblin Tokens and Goblin Rabblemaster.
I sideboard like this:
+3 Glare of Heresy+2 Reclamation Sage
-3 Voyaging Satyr-1 Polukranos, World Eater-1 Genesis Hydra
The best way for RW to win is to get an early jump with a two-drop, and the sideboarded Glare of Heresy prevents that from happening. Reclamation Sage is crucial for destroying Outpost Siege.
Some opponents will try to take the control role, especially with End Hostilities, but it is a losing battle and I believe they need to push their aggressive role to win. Elspeth, Sun's Champion could be a powerful option for RW trying to play the control role, but Glare of Heresy is insurance against that.
Genesis Hydra can be a bit slow and another could be removed for the third Polukranos, World Eater on the draw, but the card advantage and tempo it provides is surprisingly effective in the matchup because the body is highly relevant.UB/Sultai Control
GW is quite strong against UB/g control decks, which can struggle against the extremely high threat density GW presents, especially after sideboard. Mastery of the Unseen is at its best here, and it is usually correct to make Manifests at every opportunity rather than playing spells. They rely heavily on Ugin, the Spirit Dragon as a board wipe to control the game, but the fact that Manifests are colorless makes life quite difficult for the planeswalker. Their best tool here is Perilous Vault, which is not played in high numbers, and can be dealt with by Banishing Light.
The sideboard plan is to increase threat density and further push GW's role as the aggressor:
+3 Boon Satyr+2 Reclamation Sage+2 Nissa, Worldwaker+1 Temur Sabertooth
-3 Voyaging Satyr-4 Sylvan Caryatid-1 Banishing LightAbzan Control
Their key card here is Elspeth, Sun's Champion, beyond which they play a normal attrition game and struggle against the card advantage inherent to GW. The best way to play around Elspeth, Sun's Champion is to maintain enough pressure to overcome Soldier Tokens and pressure the planeswalker while not walking into the -3 ability. It is possible for them to get aggressive draws with Siege Rhino backed by removal spells, but generally they are in the defensive role. Mastery of the Unseen is excellent here.
Sideboarding against Abzan Control is flexible and can vary depending on what cards the Abzan deck has access to. Here's a general plan:
+2 Boon Satyr+4 Valorous Stance+2 Glare of Heresy+2 Nissa, Worldwaker
-4 Sylvan Caryatid-3 Voyaging Satyr-3 Polukranos, World Eater
On the play it may be better to leave Glare of Heresy on the sidelines and push the aggression with more creatures, but the more I play the matchup the more I like a clean out to Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Banishing Light can be removed depending on what cards the opponent has access to; for example, it's weak against an opponent with Reclamation Sage.
Abzan Aggro can suffer against the sheer amount of board presence GW Devotion can present, and it struggles beating an online Mastery of the Unseen engine. It threats are individually strong, and they are backed up with removal spells, so blocking is difficult and they are able to punch through damage with trampling Siege Rhino in particular.
GW needs to take on the control role and play towards a Mastery of the Unseen endgame, and the sideboarding plan shifts the deck towards that role.
+4 Valorous Stance
+3 Glare of Heresy
-2 Banishing Light-2 Genesis Hydra-3 Voyaging Satyr
Back to Nature is a huge threat from their sideboard, so Banishing Light can be removed for more efficient and reliably options.
The mirror match is a ridiculous affair that can easily fall into a stalemate with both sides flooded with creatures and with extremely high life totals. Decking is a legitimate route to victory, but an opponent with a mirror breaker like Temur Sabertooth or Nylea, God of the Hunt will have a huge edge and will likely win any drawn out game. For that reason, if the mirror becomes quite popular it will be necessary to play a Temur Sabertooth in the maindeck.
An early Polukranos, World Eater is capable of stealing a game if unanswered. In a stalemate a player with Mastery of the Unseen will overtake an opponent without, though Whisperwood Elemental is nearly as effective and important for its ability to generate board presence.
+4 Valorous Stance+2 Reclamation Sage+1 Temur Sabertooth
-4 Fleecemane Lion-3 Sylvan Caryatid
Against any other archetype, the general plan is to add disruption or more threats. Voyaging Satyr is nearly always the first card to go. Against hyper-aggressive decks like Monored I would cut Genesis Hydra, while against control like UW I would cut more mana acceleration. There are a huge number of other potential sideboard options to try, as demonstrated by Cechetti's winning decklist, but I like playing powerful, board options in an open metagame.
Turn to the comments section to share any ideas or ask any questions!