Hello, I'm Wylie Mok and I won the 2013 Illinois State Fall Championship with Monoblue Devotion. I originally started playing Magic during Unlimited and played through Urza's Saga. I came back to the game right after Innistrad when my friend Adam got me hooked after a few kitchen table games with his Darksteel Reactor, Dismantle, and proliferate combo deck. I also Top 4'd the WMCQ in Chicago in June of this year with Bant Hexproof, losing the mirror to the eventual champion, Daniel Cecchetti. I rarely get to play in any sort of large tournaments because of my job; I generally work every Saturday. I am an attorney by day and I love my job - I can honestly say that I have the opportunity to help people every day. But TCG scheduled States on a Sunday and since the Bears had already played on Thursday, I was more than happy to spend my Sunday in Magical, uh, Magic Land.
Leading up to States, I wasn't sure what I would play. I'd been having success at local stores with Gruul Monsters and BWR Midrange, but wasn't in love with either deck and both were prone to clunky draws. The buzz around the early PT Theros coverage was about a Monoblue deck featuring Thassa, God of the Sea and Master of Waves. I already had three Masters and two Thassas and I traded for the remaining pieces at the FNM before States. However, when Wizards released the PT Theros Top 8 lists Saturday afternoon, while the Monoblue lists looked like a ton of fun, it was the Monoblack Devotion list that caught my eye. I hadn't had a chance to play monoblack in Standard since Necropotence was a thing and the deck looked like a solid mix of efficient creatures, disruption, and a lot of removal - something that would have a game against everything in the field.
Me and my friend Brian sleeved up a couple of the Top 8 lists Saturday night and jammed in a few games and the monoblack list just couldn't keep up. We were finding that unless you have all the single target removal, one-for-ones won't kill enough creatures to shut off devotion over the course of a game (naturally, the SCG guys tweaked the monoblack removal package and took down GP Louisville). We were also finding that the monoblack list does a ton of damage to itself via Thoughtseize and Underworld Connections and without a Whip of Erebos or a Gray Merchant of Asphodel to catch up, you can end up burning yourself to death. So I Put Away the dreams of playing monoblack and decided if I wasn't going to be able to pretend this was Ice Age Block Standard that I'd at least have some fun with creatures that looked like they came from in Ice Age Standard. We tweaked the sideboard in expectation of a lot of Monoblue (because the deck had just won a Pro Tour) and for the Esper and Azorius control decks we thought people would bring to combat Monoblue.
The deck mulligans very well - you are packing a lot of four-ofs and you never have to worry about not having the right color lands to cast your spells. But when looking at your opening hand, never count your Mutavaults as mana sources. Mutavaults do not help you cast any of your one- or two-drops except Omenspeaker and like any aggro deck, you need to get off to a fast start. Monoblue Devotion probably has the best curve out in the format, minus any Burning-Tree Emissary silliness - Cloudfin Raptor, into Frostburn Weird, into Thassa, God of the Sea, and then Master of Waves = 20 power on the board on turn four. Also, I tried to hold on to Nightveil Specters against any decks with more than a few removal spells - the Specter is devotion in a can and you want your opponents to waste their removal on your lesser creatures and it's a great feeling when your opponent finally kills enough of your creatures to turn off Thassa only for you to turn her right back on. If I expected instant speed removal like Hero's Downfall or Abrupt Decay, I would often play creatures before combat so as to not get blown out mid combat. Thassa is a great psychological advantage, especially when you cast her on turn three. Your opponent will constantly have to worry about getting a Lava Axe to the face every turn for 1U. She forces your opponent to start using removal sooner than they may like. When sideboarding, I wanted to change a little as possible with the deck, with the exception being the control matchup, because you do not want to disrupt the aggressive core of your deck.
Aggro - you are way ahead in any match against a small creature based deck like Red Deck Wins, White Weenie, or Selesnya Aggro. Get some damage in with your fliers, hide behind a wall of 1/3s and 1/4s until you can turn the corner with an unblockable Thassa or a horde of Elemental tokens. Post-board, you can bring in Wall of Frost, as another roadblock and remove a Bident. Boros Reckoner is a still a thing and Wall of Frost is one of the few creatures in the format that can profitably block a Boros Reckoner and in a pinch, you can Hybridize a creature and lock down the resulting Frog Lizard with a Tidebinder Mage. It goes without saying that Tidebinder Mage is amazing against these kinds of decks and I will generally hold on to the Tidebinders for value unless I need them to turn on a Thassa or need to apply pressure.
Control - my plan going into the tournament against control decks was to add more non-creature based permanents to keep devotion active - take out Cloudfin Raptors, the Cyclonic Rifts, the Hybridization, and some combination of Tidebinder Mages and Omenspeakers and bring in the AEtherlings, both Jaces, and all the countermagic. By diversifying your threats, you can Overload their removal and countermagic. Then just start pecking away with your creatures and counter their Sphinx's Revelations and you can grind out a long match because the control player will run out of cards eventually. If you are forcing your opponent to Doom Blade your Judge's Familiar's, you're winning. Without cards like Think Twice, or Forbidden Alchemy, these decks lean heavily on Azorius Charm and Jaces to hit early land drops and need Revelation to catch up or get ahead. As usual, Mutavaults are great against control decks and the Bidents really force the control players to react or die.
Gruul Monsters, Ramp, or Colossal Gruul - this was the match up I was most concerned about going into the tournament. Their creatures are significantly bigger than yours and getting to six mana to OverloadMizzium Mortars or activate a Polukranos, World Eater seemed rather easy between Elvish Mystic, Sylvan Caryatid, etc., and there's always the fear of a huge Mistcutter Hydra post-board. My best guess heading into States on how to win this match up was to beat them the same way you used to beat up the old Wolf Run Ramp decks - restrict their mana and kill them before they could get any of their huge spells online. Here I'd bring in the extra Rapid Hybridizations in exchange for a Bident and Cloudfin Raptors.
Other Midrange Decks - decks like BWR or Rakdos Midrange in theory have the tools to keep up with you: spot removal, sweepers, big creatures, card draw. In actuality, the BWR lists feel a lot like Jund from Ravinca Standard with far worse mana - sometimes you draw a good mix of removal and threats and Smoke your opponents, and sometimes you draw the wrong half of your deck and die a slow painful death. These decks do a lot of damage to themselves with shocklands, Thoughtseize, and Read the Bones. Rapid Hybridization here is a good way to transform their Stormbreath Dragons into something more manageable and I'd bring in Negates for Anger of the Gods and Mizzium Mortars probably in exchange for Cloudfin Raptors again.
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The Mirror - a lot of this match up comes down to who goes first - given equal draws, getting your Thassa active, or landing Nightveil Specter first is a huge advantage. The specter is an amazing card in this match - every time you connect, you're essentially drawing a card and I've gotten into more than one Domestication fight over a single Nightveil Specter. Keep in mind timestamp effects means the player with the last Domestication on a creature controls that creature, though the previous Domestications still add to each player's devotion count. This is a match that makes me want another Nykthos in the main board because the mana advantage is huge. I'd also bring in the Gainsays and the Rapid Hybridizations and take out the Judge's Familiars - the Cloudfins can evolve easily and provide a blocker for Nightveil Specter. I will also trim a Bident, and the Jace, though taking out the Jace might be wrong. Jace is generally very good against small creature decks, but an active Thassa will quickly wipe out a Jace and I prefer to bring in cards that will help control my opponent's devotion and Masters.
R1: Monoblack Devotion (2-1)
R2: Red Deck Wins (2-1)
R3: Golgari Aggro (2-0)
R4: Selesnya Aggro (1-2)
R5: Esper Control (2-1)
R6: Naya Aggro (2-1)
R7: Red Deck Wins (2-0)
T8: Orzhov Midrange (2-1)
T4: White Weenie (2-0)
Finals: G/R Monsters (2-0)
All the matches pretty much played out according to plan - against the aggro decks, I either curved out into a Master of Waves or got Thassa active or stalled the board out until I drew either of those two. The only match I lost all day was to the Selesnya Aggro deck. The first two games were fairly uninteresting as we took turns mulling to five and getting pounded by optimal draws from the other. The third game stalled after the initial rush as we both started drawing lands. I drew the Master of Waves and my opponent immediately drew a Mistcutter Hydra and cast it for six - this allowed him to swing in with just the Hydra and hold back the rest of his team to block and the Hydra killed me on the following turn. (More on the Hydra later.) I got there in game three against Esper with a Bident and a determined Judge's Familiar doing the final five points of damage, though the Bident was the reason I won that game - I drew an extra five or six cards off of the Bident and countered two of my opponent's Revelations.
In the Top 4 against White Weenie, I think my opponent cast a Brave the Elements that he thought would be lethal when he named blue, but he forgot about the untapped Mutavault I had held back. With all these devotion decks, I do expect Brave the Elements to start deciding games. Against the Gruul Monsters deck in the finals, I used Tidebinder Mages to keep my opponent's mana dorks locked down and kept him off his big creatures/spells long enough to win the games. After the finals, my opponent was gracious enough to tell me that my plan of tying up his mana dorks kept him from overloading a Mizzium Mortars in game one and essentially what kept him off the board in game two.
As for changes I'd make to the deck, I wouldn't touch the maindeck right now and I think the manabase is perfect. For the sideboard, I'd want another Mutavault for the control match up and to be able to go up to 25 lands and bring in the AEtherling. With monoblack taking down GP Louisville, I'd consider adding a Mizzium Skin. I'd remove one of the AEtherling and the Jace, Memory Adept from the board. And then there's Mistcutter Hydra - other than chumping with Mutavaults or shenanigans with Rapid Hybridization on you own creatures (hopefully Thassa), I had no way of dealing with the Hydra. I think that Ratchet Bomb is a poor answer - sitting around with a Ratchet Bomb on one counter for turn after turn is a waste, especially if your opponent casts something else you need to deal with, i.e. Polukranos. For the time being, I'd expect that monoblack and Esper control will hold down the Gruul/Monogreen Devotion decks and just accept that you're weak to the hydra and race them.
I certainly think Monoblue devotion is going to stick around. My main concern is the shift towards devotion based strategies means you do have to play cards that aren't inherently powerful. Thassa, God of the Sea and Master of Waves are definitely the most powerful creatures in the deck with Nightveil Specter coming in a distant third. Decks have already started adapting by carrying more and more removal and you might find yourself with a 0/1 Cloudfin Raptor and not much else in play. As always, time will tell. Thanks for reading and support your local game shops.
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