Insider: A Closer Look at Nyx-Fleece Ram

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With the SCG Invitational in Columbus coming up, I've been jamming a lot of Red Devotion in Standard. I haven't made many changes to the maindeck since last I wrote about the deck, and things have been running pretty smoothly. As a refresher, here's how the deck deck looked:

The most major change that I could see making to the maindeck is turning a couple Mountains into Mana Confluences. They hurt the Burn matchup, but I think that you might have to get lucky to beat them anyway.

Speaking of the Burn matchup, I have been extremely unhappy with Nyx-Fleece Ram as an answer to that deck. I've certainly been hosed to Ram out of other decks while playing Burn, but the card just hasn't had the same impact in the Devotion shell.

At face value, the card seems totally fine. It gains life and it blocks Mutavault and Eidolon of the Great Revel. However, as a deck's only lifegain spell, it doesn't really do a lot. Even when you have it on turn two, it doesn't do much more than a Healing Salve would over the course of the game, excluding blocking. More importantly, it doesn't do anything on-plan with the rest of the deck--namely, it neither adds devotion or attacks for any damage.

In other decks, the card makes a lot of sense. In particular, it's really sweet in something like the Junk Constellation deck that Brian Kibler posted this week:

This deck is intent on controlling rather than attacking, and Nyx-Fleece Rams play a similar role to Courser of Kruphix against Burn, adding some redundancy to the slow life gain package. The potential constellation triggers also make Ram worthwhile off the top of the deck.

After playing a game where I gained six life with a Ram on board, still losing relatively convincingly to Burn, I began pondering whether the card was to blame or if the game was just a fluke. This got me thinking about a very different sideboard card from many years ago.

If you're not familiar with Raking Canopy, it was a card that, on the surface, seemed to be an option to combat the menace that was Blue/Black Faeries. It killed any of their non-Mutavualt creatures all the way up to Mistbind Clique while ignoring the protection granted by Scion of Oona.

The major problem with Raking Canopy, however, was that it was purely reactive and didn't put any pressure on the Faerie player. Just waiting around and eventually using a Cryptic Command to bounce the enchantment could easily defeat this type of hate. And that's just ignoring the fact that they could simply counter it on the way down in the first place.

Later, these guys showed up and demonstrated what truly hateful sideboard cards looked like:

Now that's some real hate. These cards could outright embarrass Faeries, making every life lost from Bitterblossom all the more relevant. Fallout in particular played to all of the deck's weaknesses and could create games that were just unwinnable for the Faeries player.

Nyx-Fleece Ram, as a singular card, doesn't have the ability to completely change the pace of many games on its own. Additionally, it doesn't address the biggest problem that Red Devotion actually has against Burn--Searing Blood is a huge beating. There's really nothing that a Devotion shell can reasonably do that beats Searing Blood while staying competitive against the rest of the deck.

The second biggest problem is that an unanswered Eidolon of the Great Revel puts the Burn player unequivocally in the driver's seat.

You know what they say though. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Searing Blood

Obviously Searing Blood is more on-point out of the Burn deck, but it can generate the same kind of tempo swing from this side of the matchup. It can take care of Mutavault, "reset" a Chandra's Phoenix, and, most importantly, answer Eidolon of the Great Revel.

It's also obviously very good against anything resembling a mirror and it adds a lot of power against aggressive decks. Previously, Red Devotion had to play a controlling game against anything aggressive until it could go over the top and find a path to victory. While it still plays a similar roll with Searing Blood in tow, a removal spell with a Lava Spike tacked on makes turning the corner much easier.

I can see the argument for maindecking some number of Searing Blood. When it's good, it's really good, and you already have so many dead cards against control decks anyway. It's not nearly as good in Devotion as it is in Burn, in part because the Lava Spike is less on-plan, but primarily because it doesn't combine with other cards in the deck as well. I've won a number of games by throwing a Mizzium Mortars and a Searing Blood at a Desecration Demon, but that's not a line that you can really depend on.

Some potential small changes aside, I've been very happy with this strategy and these spells. Banishing Light has been an awesome boon for this deck and Eidolon of the Great Revel comes in and does work against control, Black Devotion and, surprisingly, Hexproof.

With some good draws, I could see putting up some great results. As for Legacy, I'll be sticking with old reliable, aka RUG Delver.

Have any last-minute changes that you'd recommend for my list? Have a more convincing sideboard plan against Burn? Let me know in the comments section.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan Overturf
@RyanOverdrive on Twitter

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