I’m back, and as my friends know, brewing decks has always been a passion of mine. I like to hover around specific cards and see how far I can take them. My inspiration behind this deck is actually [mtg_card]Phyrexian Obliterator[/mtg_card], not Gary, the [mtg_card]Gray Merchant of Asphodel[/mtg_card]. For those who can remember, devotion was powerful in Standard, but it’s never really made an impact on Modern. About a year ago I started playing a Mono-B devotion deck. It was cute, it was silly, but it was never quite great.
I went and revisited the deck, trying to make it a contender. I was pleasantly surprised when I started crushing some competitive Magic Online leagues. After a ton of 4-1s, and even some 5-0’s, myself and a few others got our lists published. This is important because it means it’s not just some jank that only I can pilot to success. I present Bw Devotion!
[d title=”Bw Devotion by Jeremy Lichtenberger”] Lands 2 Isolated Chapel 2 Godless Shrine 4 Polluted Delta 4 Marsh Flats 11 Snow-Covered Swamp Creatures 4 Gifted Aetherborn 4 Phyrexian Obliterator 4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel Spells 3 Fatal Push 4 Inquisition of Kozilek 4 Thoughtseize 1 Collective Brutality 2 Victim of Night 4 Lingering Souls 1 Damnation 1 Phyrexian Arena Planeswalkers 3 Liliana of the Veil 2 Liliana, the Last Hope Sideboard 4 Fulminator Mage 3 Rest in Peace 2 Stony Silence 2 Damping Sphere 2 Anguished Unmaking 2 Kambal, Consul of Allocation [/d]
I’ve had quite a few questions surrounding this deck and card choices, so I’ll try to break this all down. Let’s start by looking at the creatures that I didn’t choose.
The first major decision I made when revising my original list was moving away from the devotion strategy. It turned out I was jumping through hoops and picking subpar cards just for the sake of having more devotion. The reality was that Gary was usually good enough— even with as little as 6 devotion, so the previous build was really overkill.
[gallery columns=”2” size=”medium” ids=”5494,5495” orderby=”rand”]
I experimented with [mtg_card]Dread Shade[/mtg_card] a decent amount, and while it performed fairly well, I cut it based on the fact that I found myself casting it on turn 4, instead of turn 3, to avoid Bolt. An unchecked Shade can do big work on offense, or hold back some large attacks on defense, but at the 3 drop slot, I found myself wanting more.
Which takes me to [mtg_card]Geralf’s Messenger[/mtg_card]. A long time mainstay of devotion decks, Geralf’s Messenger packs a serious punch. My issue was that it was an absolutely terrible blocker on turn 3, and paying BBB to take 2 life was rarely worth it. If it gained 2 as well, it would be much more playable in the current meta, but as things stand right now, it’s just too slow for what I’m trying to accomplish. If you can untap with it, it becomes much better, but it’s liability at times.
[gallery columns=”2” size=”medium” ids=”5499,5498”]
Just how Dread Shade is secretly a 4 drop, [mtg_card]Gatekeeper of Malikir[/mtg_card] is secretly a 3 drop. Paying BBB for an edict attached to a 2/2 isn’t bad, but I found the 2/2 body left behind pretty trivial. It provides the same devotion as [mtg_card]Liliana of the Veil[/mtg_card] and costs the same, but I’d rather have a planeswalker around with 1 loyalty after an edict than a 2/2 grizzly bear. [mtg_card]Relentless Dead[/mtg_card] also has a ton of text on it, and can do some neat things in Zombie decks, but it flounders in this strategy. Menace is nice for punching through bits of damage, but my opponents were often able to time their removal so I would get minimal value.
Finally, Bloodghast is no stranger to Modern. Many decks have used the Vampire Spirit to great success, but in Devotion, it’s a bit too linear. It only does one thing: Attack. I think in a more aggressive build of this deck, you’d want to run a playset, but in a midrange version, you’ll want to steer clear of this.
If, after reading this, it seems that I cut a massive core out of the creature devotion, then you’d be right. However, this version of the deck doesn’t rely as heavily on them. The creatures I do have, though, do a lot of heavy lifting.
[gallery size=”medium” ids=”5501,5502,5503”]
These are the three best creatures I could ask for in this deck, starting with the 2 drop slot. [mtg_card]Gifted Aetherborn[/mtg_card] is an absolute beast! It is an immediate roadblock to anything that would want to attack you, big or small. It also is free to attack, as most people won’t want to trade their larger creatures for it. The fact that it has lifelink is also pretty huge considering the 4x [mtg_card]Thoughtseize[/mtg_card] in the list, but the lifegain is good against 95% of the decks in Modern. Sure, it dies to Bolt and Push, but if it doesn’t die immediately, the deck instantly starts to gain traction.
Oh Obliterator, how do I love thee? Really, I love Obliterator. It’s one of the most Timmy cards ever made, and it’s black! On the surface, Obliterator looks gimmicky. It has BBBB for devotion and has a sick damage clause attached to it, but it’s so much more. On defense, it stops nearly everything on the ground. It doesn’t really matter what the other player is attacking with, if you’re blocking, they will pay the price. Even a Double Striking 8/6 Primevil Titan is afraid to come into the redzone. On Offense, the same story is true. Nothing will want to get in its way, and chump blocking a 5/5 trample just isn’t an option. Another neat thing is Phyrexian Obliterator is a Horror, which means a flipped Thing in the Ice will still have to get through it, which isn’t insignificant considering the amount of decks with Thing in the Ice right now. All of those things aside, it provides a cool BBBB devotion for the finisher.
Gary is synonymous with devotion, and one of the best payoffs for playing any color of devotion. The main difference in this deck is Gary is our finisher. The deck plays a controlling game and usually wins with as little as 6 devotion on the field. Gray Merchant of Asphodel is needed as a minimum of 1x in all games, so it’s important to not cut them all. Sometimes it’s your only path to victory (I.E. Ensnaring Bridge.)
I absolutely love Phyrexian Arena, and I love that this deck can support a copy in the main board. It excels in grindy matchups or games where you need to dig for a card quickly, but it also provides devotion, which is a bonus. And while Underworld Connections can sometimes be a better card due to potentially drawing a card the turn it is played, or not drawing a card, saving you the life, it’s more of a liability against the frequent Ghost Quarters found in Modern. The reason for 1x in the 75 and not more is the speed in which most matchups end. There are a lot of decks out there that want to kill you right now, and Arena isn’t suited for those games. I wanted to put 1x in the sideboard, but I found that most of the time, it wasn’t really needed. This deck performs pretty well in grindy matchups and while Arena pushes those games over the top, it often isn’t NEEDED to win the game. This sideboard is meant to help in matchups that really don’t go well for this deck and I made a calculated choice with only having 1x in the 75.
[gallery columns=”4” size=”medium” ids=”5504,5507,5506,5505”]
Terror is the original 2 drop kill spell, but Doom Blade is the namesake card for the slot, since it’s a better version. Choosing a 2 drop kill spell isn’t as straight forward as it may seem, as they all have a drawback. I chose to run Victim of Night because it seems to kill the largest variety of creatures. Cast Down is a new addition to the card pool, and quite good, but it doesn’t kill some key creatures, which means it can be a liability. Cast Down doesn’t kill Baral in Storm, Thalia in Humans or Taxes, Azusa in Amulet/Titan decks, Tasigur in whatever deck he happens to be in, (Shadow) or Vendilion Clique in Control. The first three are very important to kill in order to keep pace with the game or not die, so having a removal spell that cannot kill them can be rough. Victim of Night really only wiffs on Gurmag Angler and Prized Amalgam, both of which can be handled fairly easily in a ground game. My logic is that, if I have an Obliterator or Aetherborn on the field, I want a removal spell that can deal with a problematic creature since Obliterator and Aetherborn do a great job at putting up a road block. Go for the Throat is nearly unplayable with the amount of Hollow One, Hardened Scales, KCI and Affinity that’s out there. Doom Blade is a blank against many decks and can’t touch a Death Shadow, so it’s out. Murderous Cut and Dismember are also fine options, but I’ve also decided not to run them because Murderous Cut can be dead early game before you have anything in your graveyard and while Dismember can kill most things in Modern, there are some that it can’t kill. Additionally, even though this is a mostly black deck, paying 1BB for a kill spell still isn’t great. Also, paying 4 life to kill something in a deck that can be slow is a liability. Arclight Phoenix is everywhere and there’s no way I’m paying life to kill one of those.
[gallery columns=”2” size=”medium” ids=”5512,5513”]
Fatal Push is no stranger to Modern, but it has also lost a bit of power due to the amount of creatures that can be recurred. Dredge and Phoenix decks are very popular, so Push can often be just a minor fog effect. That said, it’s still a highly necessary card and very important to keeping control. One of the reasons that I only run 3 instead of 4 is that I added a Damnation main board. There are countless games where sweeping the board on turn 4 completely turns the tide of the entire game. 1x in the main is sufficient since I don’t always want to sweep the board.
[gallery columns=”2” size=”medium” ids=”5511,5509”]
Another source of devotion in this deck are planeswalkers. Everyone knows the power of both Liliana Planeswalkers, but some have fallen out of favor due to the amount of agro in Modern. As a 2x, Liliana the Last Hope is great at dealing with smaller creatures, tokens and 2-3 power fliers. She also can buy back important creatures since we only have access to 12. Occasionally Lingering Souls can get milled over, with is a plus. On her own, Liliana, the Last Hope is also a win condition. With a stable board, she will quickly race to ultimate, and from there, the game should be in the bag.
Conversely, Liliana of the Veil is great at controlling the pace of the game. It also can be the only way you can take control of a board state. Her plus and Lingering Souls go together like Ranch dressing and french fries: Amazing. Her minus ability is great at taking out hard to access creatures, and combined with the removal and creature suite, Lili usually sticks around for awhile. Her ultimate can swing nearly any unwinable game around in your favor.
[gallery size=”medium” ids=”5522,5523,5524”]
The discard package for this deck is fairly routine in regards to card choice. Because this deck is essentially a mono B deck game one, it leans heavily on being able to interact via ripping apart the opponent’s hand, and nine copies of discard spells in the main board is a great way to accomplish that. It’s not without it’s pitfalls, however, as Dredge, Phoenix and Hollow One decks are anxious to put their cards into their graveyard. You’ll find that when we sideboard, oftentimes discard is the first thing that is cut from the deck. Collective Brutality as a 1x card feels exactly right for this build. In some matchups it’s dead, and I want nothing to do with it, but in other matchups I want 4x of them. Unfortunately, a 75 card list puts constrains on what stays and what goes. I think that if I was preparing for a meta that was full of Burn, I would shift to 3x or 4x copies in the 75.
[gallery size=”medium” columns=”4” ids=”5525,5526,5527,5531”]
The thing that really makes this deck stand out is the splash for white. It comes in the form of 8x fetch lands and 2x check lands (Isolated Chapel) and 2x shock lands (Godless Shrine.) I’ve tested with the fast land (Concealed Courtyard) and while it sometimes felt good, other times it was downright back breaking to see. Casting Obliterator on turn 4 or Gray Merchant on turn 5 can sometimes be the difference between winning and losing, and having a tapped land can be a huge liability. The same can be said for the Isolated Chapel. If it’s your only land in hand, it is definitely a mulligan, while if it was a check land, you’d keep it. To be safe, I could run 4x Godless Shrine, but then the mana base becomes very painful, and this decks badly wants to stabilize. The most important part of this very mild splash is that the deck produce white mana by turn 2.
The thing I get asked the most is “Why Snow-Covered Swamps?” It’s a three fold answer. Firstly, I designed a Mono Black devotion deck over a year ago in paper, and wanted the deck to be as expensive as possible. At the time, it was worth around $1000, and the snow-covered Swamps sent the price tag up. The second part is, why not? Snow-covered lands aren’t just for Storm or Skred, but they are in fact legal to play and pretty cool looking. Lastly, the reason I chose them is the same reason people keep asking me about them: they grab the attention of people very quickly and they immediately struggle to understand why.
Normally, mono black is very constrained to what it can accomplish post board, but because of the white splash, the deck instantly has great tech after game one.
[gallery columns=”4” size=”medium” ids=”5532,5533,5534,5535”]
This is what becomes unlocked once the white splash is added. Stony Silence and Rest in Peace are arguably the strongest sideboard cards in Modern, especially with the amount of graveyard based decks. Just having access to those two cards alone makes the splash worth it, but throwing in a couple copies of Kambal, Consul of Allocation and Anguished Unmaking really extends the reach of this deck. Kambal is great against decks that want to cast a bunch of cards, like Storm, KCI and Phoenix decks, for example. Anguished Unmaking deals with basically anything that you didn’t or couldn’t account for. Stray rogue cards or prison pieces like Ensnaring Bridge, but also Planeswalkers. The 3 life is a real cost, however, so it must be used in a high impact spot.
[gallery columns=”2” size=”medium” ids=”5536,5538”]
Damping Sphere is no stranger to Modern sideboards, and has become more popular lately due to the amount of Phoenix decks that cast cantrip after cantrip each turn. It also helps shuts down decks like Tron, Eldrazi and Amulet titan, and it isn’t very often that this deck wants to double spell, so the second clause rarely affects it. Fulminator Mage is one of my favorite sideboard cards, as I love watching my opponent slowly lose control of the game. Combined with Liliana, the Last Hope, Fulminator Mage quickly locks the opponent out from playing Magic, which is fun! Because this isn’t a normal deck that would run Fulminator, it has the flexibility to bring it in against basically any deck that you think you can attack on the nonbasic land axis, while cutting cards that may not be quite as impactful.
Modern is extremely diverse, especially in paper, so writing a guide that covers everything is mostly impractical. However, I have gone through and listed some of the more common decks and my sideboard strategy to help players get off the ground. Once you pilot it a handful of times, you quickly develop your own flavor for how to best beat your opponent. I’ll speak briefly to a few matches/archetypes, and below that will be a quick reference sideboard guide that you can copy/paste/print and take it with you.
Spirits have quickly gained popularity and is most likely better than Humans right now due to having access to a real sideboard. Against Spirits, the matchup feels close to 50/50. The early discard and removal does well to disrupt their board and both Liliana’s pull their weight, provided you can keep your opponent suppressed. Knowing when to play around Spell Queller will usually decide if you win or lose, as the tempo advantage can be hard to overcome. The single copy of Damnation is rarely seen, and can end the game if your opponent is tapped out and committed to the board. Obliterator is medium here due to Reflector Mage, but also before most of their threats fly. Lingering Souls is hands down the best card in the matchup. It can buy multiple turns, or trade for high value targets. It will take some practice to master this one. Post board, there isn’t much that needs to be changed, and how I sideboard generally changes with my mood. Sometimes I want 2x Anguished Unmaking, but sometimes it’s not good enough and a liability. Thoughtseize and/or Gary can come out if you feel there is too much pressure, too fast. It’s notable that I board somewhat similar playing against Humans or most Collected Company decks, but those are much better matchups since they generally attack from the ground, instead of the air.
Tron is and always will be one of the most dangerous decks in Modern because sometimes it won’t matter how much you do, they will win. I’ve experienced fairly good luck in my game 1 matches vs Tron, with good early discard, Lili to strip them of cards and good ol’ luck being on my side, instead of Tron’s. That being said, there isn’t anything in the main deck that Tron is afraid of, and they can quickly end game 1. Post board a whopping 10 cards come in to crush them. On the play, 4x Fulminator gives a great chance to take them off of Tron, and combined with the increase in early game interaction, the matchup feels very winnable.
Arclight Phoenix is one of those most exciting cards printed in a long time and players are making it known that they can and will brew sweet decks around it. It can come in the form of Mono Red or Izzet (Blue/Red.) The decks play somewhat differently, as mono red functions as an aggressive burn deck and Izzet is slightly slower. This is a matchup that might be around 55/45 in our favor due to a few factors. Gifted Aetherborn does well to gain life early, and if it’s getting Bolted, that means it’s saving 3 life. Lingering Souls, while slow, does well to block Phoenix either in chump or trade mode. Damnation and Victim of Night can handle any threat they would play, and early discard can help to make them stumble. If you survive to cast a Gray Merchant even with just an Obilterator out, the 12 point life swing usually turns the tide. Interesting fact: Phyrexian Obliterator is a Horror, which means a flipped Thing in the Ice will not bounce it. Keep this in mind when playing against the Izzet version. If you have an Obilterator on the battlefield against any Phoenix deck, it will stay there as long as you want. Almost no one will point two bolts at it or swing a 7/8 Thing in the Ice into it. From this position, if you can manage the Phoenix or Crackling Drake, the game is winnable. Post board changes based on being on the play or on the draw. Thoughtseize and Liliana are mostly bad because you might just be putting a Pheonix in the bin at the cost of your resources. Phyrexian Arena also is a liability in a damage battle. Kambal and Rest in Peace come in for sure, and Damping Sphere can come in if you’re on the play. On the draw I tend to switch Sphere out for Anguished Unmaking.
Dredge is another one of those decks that a typical Midrange deck would have no chance at winning game one, but devotion does! It requires some early discarding of their Faithless Lootings or Cathartic Reunions, and beating them down some with Gifted Aetherborn. Obiliterator is a temporary road block, but sometimes a Dredge player is happy to push through damage, then sacrifice some Bloodghasts. Manage your life total and try to setup a board where you aren’t taking too much damage a turn. Gray Merchant can buy a few turns, and a second Gray Merchant can sometimes end the game on the spot. After game 1, all of the Thoughtseizes and Liliana of the Veils come out. Rest in Peace, Anguished Unmaking and Kambal come in to fight the good fight. Mull semi aggressively for a RiP, if you can. Kambal seems like it wouldn’t do much, but draining ability along with the 2/3 body can aid in stabilizing the board. Anguished Unmaking can exile a Prized Amalgam at a net gain of 0, provided it’s attacking. This, like most matchups, is actually very fun to navigate.
Burn is one of those decks that never really goes away. The way the 75 is configured isn’t set up to beat burn, so hopefully you can avoid it. If you suspect a heavy burn field, bring 2x copies of Collective Brutality over 1x Anguished Unmaking and 1x Kambal. Gifted Aetherborn is a HUGE lightning rod in this matchup. If it’s not eating a Searing Blaze, it’s eating a Helix, Rift Bolt or Lightning Bolt. That being said, it can gain some crucial life points. If you manage to survive to cast a Gray Merchant, you have a good chance of winning. Post board I usually bring in 2x Kambal and 1x Anguished Unmaking over 2x Thoughtseize and 1x Phyrexian Arena. The Anguished Unmaking is almost exclusively for Ensnaring Bridge and Kambal becomes a bigger lightning rod than Gifted Aetherborn. If either are allowed to remain even for a turn, you’ll be in great shape.
One archetype I’m always excited to see is another midrange strategy like Grixis, Jund or BG Rock. It’s a slugfest, but Devotion has an upper hand in Obliterator, Lingering Souls and Gifted Aetherborn. The combination of those three cards gives an advantage over most midrange players across from you. Packing a Damnation mainboard also means that you can hit the reset button when your opponent is out of gas, then quickly take control. This is the match where Phyrexian Obliterator gets to flex its ability to dominate the ground. Death’s Shadow, Gurmag Angler, Tasigur, Tarmogoyf, Tireless Tracker, Scavenging Ooze…it doesn’t matter. Obliterator is king of all of them. I’ve had opponents swing with a Death’s Shadow, then cast Temur Battlerage on it, not realizing that the first strike damage Obliterates their board. These are great matches to play! The matchup is fair enough that the deck doesn’t really need much post board. 2x copies of Anguished Unmaking come in to deal with pesky planeswalkers or creatures.
UW and Jeskai control will also always be around because control players will always need something to play. Unfortunately, the matchup vs UW is pretty bad, but against Jeskai it’s better. The only cards that really matter in this matchup are discard spells and Lilianas. Don’t count on most of the creatures sticking around for long, if they hit the battlefield at all. The 1x copy of Phyrexian Arena is the best way to run your opponent out of resources. After game 1, I tend to bring in a bunch of Fulminator Mages. Not only do they take care of Colonnade, but they can also steadily strip your opponent of the ability to play spells. If you manage to get a Liliana, the Last Hope and Fulminator Mage out, you will have a great chance at winning. Anguished Unmaking can pop any walker or Detention Sphere, quickly turning the tide. Games 2 and 3 can still be a headache, but never lose hope!
Lastly, I’ll talk about Hardened Scales, and to a lesser extent, Affinity. The matchup is fairly reasonable thanks to Obliterator halting any ground attack, Lingering Souls blocking any creature or land that may fly over, and a decent amount of removal. Both Lilianas feel great and I’ve managed to win a vast majority of my game 1’s against Hardened Scales. The only way to really get blown out is via Inkmoth, so if you can protect against the infect win, you’ll be in great shape. Post board we have access to many silver bullets. RiP stops modular triggers and Stony stops everything else. Anguished Unmaking does good work exiling Hangarback Walker, provided you don’t have a RiP in play. As long as you get decent draws, this matchup is yours for the taking!
I missed many decks, but hopefully what I did cover helps you make your own choices with whatever you might face. Best of luck!
Bw Devotion Sideboard quick reference list
Spirits/Humans/Coco decks -1 Gray Merchant -1 Thoughtseize; +2 Anguished Unmaking You can also go -2 Thoughtseize instead of Gary, or -2 Gary instead of Thoughtseize.
Tron -3 Push, -1 Collective Brutality -1 Damnation, -4 Lingering Souls, -1 Victim of Night; +4 Fulminator, +2 Stony Silence, +2 Damping Sphere, +2 Anguished Unmaking.
Pheonix decks (Izzet/Mono Red) -4 Thoughtseize, -2 Liliana of the Veil, -1 Phyrexian Arena; (on the play) +2 Damping Sphere, +3 Rest in Peace, +2 Kambal (on the draw) +3 RiP, +2 Anguished Unmaking, +2 Kambal.
Dredge -4 Thoughtseize, -3 Liliana of the Veil; +3 RiP, +2 Anguished Unmaking, +2 Kambal
Burn -2 Thoughtseize, -1 Phyrexian Arena +2 Kambal, +1 Anguished Unmaking or +1 Fulminator; (Anguished Unmaking is for Bridge post board, but you can run Fulminator instead)
Storm -1 Damnation, -2 Liliana, the Last Hope, -4 Lingering Souls; +3 RiP, +2 Damping Sphere, +2 Kambal.
Grixis/Jund/GB Rock -1 Collective Brutality, -1 Gray Merchant; +2 Anguished Unmaking
Hardened Scales -1 Collective Brutality, -4 Thoughtseize, -2 Gray Merchant; +3 RiP, +2 Stony, +2 Anguished Unmaking
Affinity -4 Thoughtseize +2 Stony, +2 Anguished Unmaking
UW/Jeskai Control -2 Victim of Night, -1 Damnation, -1 Gray Merchant, -3 Fatal Push; +2 Anguished Unmaking, +2 Kambal, +3 Fulminator Mage.
Valakut/Scapeshift -3 Fatal Push, -1 Damnation +4 Fulminator Mage
Amulet Titan -3 Fatal Push, -4 Lingering Souls, -1 Damnation +2 Damping Sphere, +4 Fulminator Mage, +2 Anguished Unmaking
KCI -1 Damnation, -2 Liliana, the Last Hope, -1 Collective Brutality, -4 Lingering Souls, -3 Gray Merchant +3 RiP, +2 Stony, +2 Anguished Unmaking, +2 Kambal, +2 Damping Sphere
Hollow One -2 Fatal Push, -1 Phyrexian Arena, -2 Liliana, the Last Hope, -2 Liliana of the Veil +3 RiP, +2 Anguished Unmaking, +2 Kambal
Prison Decks -3 Fatal Push, -2 Victim of Night , -1 Damnation +2 Anguished Unmaking, +2 Kambal, +2 Fulminator/Stony, depending on the type of prison deck.