Yesterday I wrote about the diversity that exists just below the surface of Standard, beyond the popular, top tier decks played by the masses. I set off to work this week intending to play one of those decks in a video, but once I started I found myself longing for the consistency and power of Black Devotion. I am comfortable and familiar with the deck, playing it comes easily, and this allows me to effectively and definitively convey my thoughts to the audience.
While I love showing off the diversity of the incredibly exciting Modern format in my videos, in Standard I'm simply devoted to black. If you came across this article but aren't interested in the black deck, turn back now; for those who are interested, this piece is filled with great information. I dig into some of the finer details of the newest build along with videos of me piloting the deck through a Magic Online Daily Event, and I share everything I learn along the way. Devotion to Black
I thought this week would be a good time for an update on Black Devotion in a post-Journey Into Nyx world. The metagame has begun to settle down, and at this point every opponent is playing some predictable version of a known quantity. Black has the full set of scry lands available, along with a full seven sets of Black cards to play with. There are a lot of potential options, but I've found what works best for me. Here's the list I've been having success with, followed with the reasoning behind some of the choices:
I used that list to reach the Top 4 of the Ohio SCG States, which had over 200 people. For my videos today I cut a Drown in Sorrow for a third Doom Blade, but the slot is fully interchangeable. Doom Blade is the more consistent card against the field, but Drown in Sorrow comes with some upside against the most aggressive rush weenie decks, which I expected a bit more of at States than online.The Argument against Splashing Green
I designed the deck to be as consistent as possible, which is why I eschewed the Green splash so popular these days. In my experience, the cost of not being able to play a spell, particularly a turn two removal spell, is extremely high. With only ten sources of Green seen in the most popular configuration of BG, casting Abrupt Decay on turn two is not a reliable play.
Another major cost to the splash is the degradation of the manabase from the simple Swamp and scry land colored base. This degradation is particularly offensive to me given the general shift of the format in a more aggressive direction. The necessity of Golgari Guildgate means more enters-the-battlefield tapped lands, meaning slower draws; note my list has actually cut down to three scry lands. The bigger problem is Overgrown Tomb, which costs 10% of the starting lifetotal to be played untapped. With full sets of both Thoughtseize and Underworld Connections, the deck is already starving for life points. Spewing life is heresy to Erebos.
In a world of only the mirror and UWx decks, I would splash green. The upside of killing Underworld Connections is huge, and I can't imagine losing to UWx very often with the ability to remove Detention Sphere and Banishing Light. In a balanced metagame, complete with decks like Boros Burn, Brave Naya, Jund Monsters, Red Devotion, Monoblue Devotion, Monoblack Aggro, and White Weenie, I can't condone the splash.Tuning Monoblack
As far as the details of my list, as I already mentioned I cut down on a scry land. While valuable, they do come with a risk of slowing down draws, and sometimes an untimely scry land can cost a whole turn for a massive loss in tempo. Yuuya Watanabe won a Grand Prix with just two scry land, so I know they are more a luxury than a necessity. My scry land of choice is Temple of Malady, for nothing more than the bluff factor of representing the Green splash. If it makes my opponent play at all differently it's a tangible benefit, and I have had multiple opponents inquire about it after the match was over.
I've made the swap of the fourth Hero's Downfall for the third Bile Blight. Back at the TCGplayer MaxPoint Championship in October I played just three Hero's Downfall to success, and with the metagame being more aggressive now than ever, I enjoy playing one cheaper removal spell. For two mana Bile Blight kills all of the important cheap threats in the format. It comes with the possibility of a blowout against aggressive decks, and it's a direct hate card to Pack Rat in the mirror. I would always cut down a Hero's Downfall against UWx, so it's not missed there. The change is felt a bit against Monsters decks and their combination of expensive creatures and planeswalkers, so if those style decks pick up again in the metagame I would move back to a playset of Hero's Downfall.
I used to play 26 land, but I've long since went down to 25 to adopt the conventional wisdom, and I am sure it's correct. For a while the extra open slot was filled with Duress, but in this post-Mana Confluence world I prefer removal or another threat. I like the proactive Lifebane Zombie, which is a strong card against most of the field. I've also cut a Nightveil Specter for a second Lifebane Zombie. This is a bit of a hedge against the field, but it also opens up sideboard space.
For a long time people were running four Lifebane Zombie maindeck, even though Nightveil Specter was demonstrably better against the top-tier metagame at that time: Monoblack Devotion, UWx, and Boros Burn. Part of this was an overreaction to Gruul Monsters, but the hidden reason behind the choice was the opening up of the sideboard. I want to have a full set of Lifebane Zombie in the 75, but Nightveil Specter is too good and too important not to play. The 3/2 maindeck configuration along with two Lifebane Zombie in the board saves some sideboard slots but still accommodates a healthy number of Nightveil Specter in the maindeck.
New in my sideboard is four Staff of the Death Magus. Boros Burn is a close but unfavorable matchup. Staff of the Death Magus completely changes the matchup around, and it provides a life total cushion that makes the job of Boros Burn difficult to finish. There are no other popular matchups that give me much trouble, so I like spending my slots on the card.
I ended up facing no burn decks at States, but I'll be watching the metagame closely. I could see cutting some or all Staff of the Death Magus for other cards depending on the metagame. If rush aggressive decks become more popular, I'd consider playing up to two Drown in Sorrow in the sideboard. Doom Blade is a very powerful card, and I'd consider up to the full playset in the board. Pharika's Cure is another option that's solid against rush decks but still hedges against burn. A final possibility is the third Erebos, God of the Dead to combat the mirror and UWx.
Absent from my sideboard is Dark Betrayal. It's strong in the mirror, but with Bile Blight around removing Pack Rat is no longer the issue it once was. It does give a slight edge in the mirror, but it doesn't come in to replace anything much worse than itself, so it's not a very efficient use of sideboard slots.
Beyond those changes, this is the same Monoblack Devotion deck we all know and love. Magic Online Videos
To showcase this Monoblack Devotion deck, I piloted it through a Magic Online Daily Event. It's a good tournament with lots of discussion and decisions. I end up facing three Mirror Matches, so the videos today are particularly useful for anyone looking to do well at a major tournament, where playing against Black Devotion is a sure thing.
I'll wrap up the article today with the videos. If you have any comments on the deckbuilding decisions or the plays in the videos, please discuss in the forums!
Round 1 vs. Monoblack Devotion
Round 2 vs. Monoblack Devotion
Round 3 vs. Monoblack Devotion
Round 4 vs. BG Dredge