Spoiler season is upon us and today I want to look at how the early previews from Born of the Gods may shake up Mono-U Devotion, one of the best and most consistent decks in Standard.

Since its breakout performance at PT Theros in Dublin last year, this deck has consistently been one of the top performers in the format. While the builds in the Pro Tour varied, the brain trust that is competitive Magic has settled on a consistent look.

Sam Black Mono-Blue

[deck]Main Deck
20 Island
4 Mutavault
1 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
4 Cloudfin Raptor
4 Frostburn Weird
4 Judge's Familiar
4 Master of Waves
4 Nightveil Specter
1 Omenspeaker
4 Thassa, God of the Sea
4 Tidebinder Mage
3 Bident of Thassa
2 Cyclonic Rift
1 Jace, Architect of Thought
Sideboard
2 Aetherling
1 Dissolve
3 Gainsay
3 Jace, Architect of Thought
2 Negate
1 Omenspeaker
3 Rapid Hybridization[/deck]

Jeremy Dezani Mono-Blue

[deck]Main Deck
21 Island
3 Mutavault
4 Cloudfin Raptor
4 Frostburn Weird
4 Judge's Familiar
4 Master of Waves
4 Nightveil Specter
2 Omenspeaker
4 Thassa, God of the Sea
4 Tidebinder Mage
1 Bident of Thassa
2 Cyclonic Rift
1 Disperse
2 Jace, Architect of Thought
Sideboard
2 Aetherling
2 Jace, Architect of Thought
1 Mutavault
3 Negate
1 Pithing Needle
2 Ratchet Bomb
1 Triton Tactics
3 Wall of Frost[/deck]

One reason for the homogeneity of these deck lists is that there just aren’t that many blue cards that are currently Standard legal. We are still sitting at the low tide of the format, where a full block of cards has rotated out only to be replaced by a single set. Typically, if a linear deck (think Affinity or a mono-colored devotion deck) from the new set is competitive at this stage in the format, you should pay close attention to how it improves as the block develops.

Two spoiled cards from Born of the Gods that you absolutely must consider for this deck are Mindreaver and Thassa's Rebuff.

mindreaverrebuff

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mindreaver is an updated, nerfed version of Voidmage Prodigy, Kai Budde’s invitational card. Whereas Kai could counter any spell, for Mindreaver to be active you first need to invest some time triggering his heroic ability to find a matching card. This is a lot of work to be able to play a situational counterspell. Voidmage Prodigy itself never saw much competitive play, so Mindreaver faces an uphill battle.

One thing going for it is the lack of UU two-drops in Standard. Every Mono-U list starts with 4 Frostburn Weirds and 4 Tidebinder Mages, because getting 2 devotion on turn two is so important to getting Thassa active on turn 4. As the only UU two-drops legal, there has been no room for variety. Mindreaver gives us another option.

As a 2/1, Mindreaver has a significantly worse body than Weird and slightly worse than Tidebinder Mage. There aren’t a lot of 1-power creatures in the format (at the moment—Brimaz may have something to say about this), so only Voyaging Satyr is going to see a difference between the two. It also doesn’t really have much of an ability, as Mono-U devotion typically has no way to trigger heroic, so it isn’t going to be replacing Weird or Tidebinder. However, we’ve never had the option of playing more than 8 two-drops in the deck—Mindreaver could make an appearance as a one- or two-of to better round out the curve.

Thassa’s Rebuff is a much more interesting card to me. It reminds me a lot of Unified Will, a situational blue counterspell from Rize of the Eldrazi. Like Unified Will, it requires you to have a significant board presence for it to be relevant. It will do very little on the first few turns of the game. Unlike Will, it is a soft counter that loses its effectiveness as the game goes on.

Before diving too deeply into Rebuff, let’s set our expectations. It can be hard to properly evaluate conditional cards because we don’t know how to value them.

The Mono-U lists require a high permanent count to drive their core mechanic, so they can’t play more than 3-4 non-permanent spells main deck without incurring significant cost. Right now those slots are focused on reactive cards like Cyclonic Rift and Rapid Hybridization. Because Mono-U is typically tapping out to deploy permanents to the board for the first four turns to get its engine going, the enemy has a big window to respond with hard to beat cards like Polukranos. Mono-U can’t just sit back on countermagic, because its early plays don’t apply enough pressure on their own—they are setting up the haymakers like Thassa, God of the Sea and Bident. If the cards you are worried about cost less than 4, you can’t reliably try to counter them without really interfering with your own game plan.

Another way of looking at this is to ask yourself if you would play Mana Leak in your Mono-U deck. With Leak, you know exactly what you are getting. For the reasons I discussed above, I don’t see it as a 4-of in these decks. Maybe a few copies creep into main decks to keep opponents honest, but I think the slots are too precious. You need higher impact cards and Leak just isn’t going to cut it. If I’m not going to play Mana Leak, I’m not going to play Thassa’s Rebuff.

Looking to the sideboard, things get more interesting. Blue devotion decks typically sideboard 5-7 counterspells for the control and attrition matchups. Is Mana Leak better than the other options?

Gainsay is there for the mirror and various U/W/x control decks. In the mirror it is a hard counter for the same casting cost as Leak, so it is obviously better. Against the U/W/x decks, with the surge in Last Breath counts, they now have more relevant non-blue spells to counter. Unfortunately, Leak isn’t especially well positioned—Last Breath is so cheap that you aren’t getting a ton of new utility. Losing the late-game hard counter against Detention Sphere is likely a bigger cost—I think I would rather have all 4 Gainsays in this matchup before I turned to Leaks.

Dissolve, Negate, and Dispel all make occasional appearances as 1-2 ofs. I could see Mana Leak eating into some of these spots but it would be at most as a two-of.

Now it is time to ask how Thassa’s Rebuff compares to Mana Leak. To break even, we need to have 3 devotion. The earliest we can have this is on turn 3, but more likely we won’t have this until turn 4. This turns off any lines where we want to be the control deck in the early turns and sit back on our counter magic—we have to be proactive to turn on Rebuff. This limits our options in-game.

Mono-U Devotion has two primary game plans: either we want to take the initiative and protect our advantage long enough to close out the game, or we want to out attrition them.

Rebuff is good in the snowball scenario. In these games, we are deploying our permanents and trying to keep our opponent off balance long enough to kill them. Our devotion count will be high and Rebuff will likely be at least for 3. It just won’t be in our deck. We don’t want countermagic in these matchups—we want to be proactive and to keep our deck streamlined. It is worth remembering this in case the format changes and we start wanting a few counters against these decks, but that isn’t the case today.

In all matchups where we want countermagic, we are playing against attrition-based decks with lots of removal. Typically, Mono-U is more reliant on cards like Jace, Architect of Thought, Bident, Mutavault, and Thassa, God of the Sea to generate incremental advantage and win a medium-length game and less reliant on snowball cards like Master of Waves getting out of hand. The board will typically be smaller and far too often Rebuff will be a blank instead of a Leak.

Against the U/W/x decks, games are going to go long and they are going to clear our board. We cannot expect to build up large devotion counts that would make Rebuff into a functionally hard counter. They will be able to pay the two extra mana we can tack on when we try to stop their Detention Sphere on turn 6. They also don’t play enough creatures to make me want the uncertainty of Rebuff over the hard counter in Negate.

Against Mono-Black Devotion, they have a lot of threatening creatures so the flexible nature of Rebuff is more appealing. However, I think the game plan is too narrow. You need to have permanents in play and have untapped mana, and they need to be playing something that isn’t cheap. This won’t happen often enough to offset the times you are holding it with no board or you draw it on turn 9 when they have 7 mana.

In the end, I don’t think either Mindreaver or Thassa’a Rebuff quite have what it takes to break into Standard, but they are good tools to keep in mind as the format continues to evolve. I wouldn’t be surprised if we are revisiting Mindreaver this fall when Tidebinder Mage and Frostburn Weird have rotated into the sunset and we need a new crop of UU two-drops to power up our Thassas.