This Standard season has been a pretty interesting ride for me. The weekend of Pro Tour Theros I picked up Mono U Devotion. The week after I started splashing black cards in the deck and it wasn’t long before I transitioned all the way to Mono B Devotion. After that I picked up Rg Devotion. I found the green cards to be underwhelming and tried Mono R for a while, and finally settled on Rw Devotion.
I know a lot of good players that contend that “the Pack Rat strategy" is the best deck in the format, and I personally never enjoy having to play against straight UW control, but I think that a strong case can be made for playing Big Boros.
All of the major players in Standard are either trying to win by having an above-average card quality or by having explosive starts. Monoblack, UW and Esper are all capable of burying their opponent under card advantage without really needing to rely on any bad cards. They can draw their cards in the wrong order to be sure, but a Thoughtseize is going to have a major impact on a game more often than a Judge's Familiar.
On the other side of the field we see decks jam-packed with any and every cheap creature the format has to offer trying to steal fast wins. Daring Skyjek and Frostburn Weird aren’t the most exciting cards, but Spear of Heliod and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx combine with them to make quite formidable draws.
The Best of Both Worlds
The reason that I advocate Rw Devotion is that it offers both above-average card quality and explosive draws. Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx is easily in my top five most powerful Standard cards. I don’t know how I’d fill out my top ten, but I do know to a certainty that I’d put Sphinx's Revelation, Thoughtseize, Mutavault and Master of Waves as the rest of my top five. More importantly, I’d put all of the following somewhere in my top 20:
Not to mention the format’s most efficient removal spell in the form of Chained to the Rocks.
That all said, there are a few problems with the stock list. The following cards fluctuate a great deal in relevance by matchup and by game:
The removal spells are functional mulligans against most of the control variants (drawing Chained to the Rocks against Blood Baron of Vizkopa being particularly frustrating) and Hammer of Purphoros is most often terrible against aggressive decks.
Purphoros fluctuates between being the difference-maker in a close game and being completely worthless. I found myself boarding him out against every aggressive deck due to his inconsistency and ultimately settled on relegating it to the sideboard. He’s a must answer against control decks as they are slow enough to be punished by his triggered ability, but Black Devotion can both win quickly and keep your devotion low.
The Green Planeswalkers vary in power from game-breaking to miserable, but the biggest reason to eschew them is Chained to the Rocks. They’re good against control… when they don’t Hero's Downfall/Detention Sphere them. Chained to the Rocks is less likely to be answered and matters in more matchups. Specifically, it deals with all of these very problematic cards:
With all of this in mind, I’m currently on this 75:
The first comment I have on the deck is that Knight of the Last Breath has been miserable out of the sideboard and I’m looking for a replacement. While it’s possible to win through Desecration Demon and Arbor Colossus, Master of Waves has a way of being a brick wall and a one-two turn clock. I’ve tried Ratchet Bomb, Anger of the Gods and Knight of the Last Breath as answers and all of them have been unsatisfactory. Anger just sets you back too much and Ratchet Bomb is an awkward combination of slow and narrow. I don’t like Electrickery as it doesn’t do anything against Nightveil Specter, and I’m not sure what else to try. I would be immensely happy with an Oblivion Ring or Dismember reprint, though I don’t especially expect either- particularly not Dismember.
And a Little Bit of Spice
The other card I want to talk about is Mindsparker. I didn’t draft M14 at all, so I mostly only knew about cards from the set as they saw constructed play. I was rifling through extra cards that my friend Sean brought to Vegas when I came across this little number and it looked like a good tool against UW control, which was a matchup that I was worried about. At the time I was maindecking Chandra's Phoenix and I put two Mindsparker in my sideboard.
After playing a game where I played turn two Ash Zealot into turn three Mindpsparker against Green Devotion to brickwall my opponents turn two 5/5 Reverent Hunter while I Fanatic’d my opponent to death I was sold on maindecking the card. I started out with two and as I moved things around I liked it more and more.
Just having more permanents contributes to the devotion plan, which is a big reason that I liked Chandra's Phoenix in the first place. Another first striker is nothing to scoff at, and Mindsparker’s triggered ability is also pretty relevant against the control decks. Not to mention that it helps a bit against Brave the Elements decks in racing situations.
I played roughly the above list in the Vegas Standard Open to a 7-2-1 record and at the Minnesota PTQ to go 3-0, then 0-2. In those events my losses were to an aggressive deck when I stumbled and to Blue Devotion- though I also had wins against both decks in both events.
I think that Standard is finally hitting a rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock type dynamic, and I don’t know that I’d say there is a best deck currently, but I would definitely recommend Rw devotion. If nothing else, it’s much less boring than UW control.
Thanks for reading.