I’ve spent the last six weeks looking for one thing: My search started back in September as I pored over the Khans of Tarkir spoiler. Eventually I began scouring Standard tournament results and soon after, I logged countless hours of first-hand research. I still haven’t found it yet.
What I’ve been looking for all this time is one good reason to not play Green Devotion in Standard. Just one single reason why it’s not the best deck. After all was said and done, though, I wound up playing Green Devotion with a black splash at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir. Here’s what I played:
Green Devotion Splashing Black by Reid Duke (56th place Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir)
The Pro Tour
I’ll make a long story short by saying that I finished 6-4 with the deck, which was good for 56th place (after 4-2 in draft). Here were my matchups:
2-0 vs. Abzan
1-0 vs. Jeskai Ascendancy Combo
2-1 vs. Mardu Planeswalkers
1-2 vs. Jeskai Wins
0-1 vs. G(b) Devotion (This was a 74-card mirror match against my teammate Jelger Wiegersma)
While 6-4 isn’t exactly knocking it out of the park, it’s a respectable record and the deck played well for me all tournament. (It’s also hard to count losing a mirror match as a strike against the deck). On the whole, I had no regrets about my deck choice.
If there was a problem, it was that I misjudged the metagame a little bit. The real strength of Green Devotion is its excellent matchup against opposing creature decks. Unfortunately, the Pro Tour field had virtually no dedicated aggro decks, and G/R and Temur Monsters only showed up in very small numbers. I put two Hornet Nests in my sideboard against aggro, but never touched them the whole tournament.
Our particular deck list was also built for the Green Devotion mirror, but that wasn’t especially helpful given that the only mirror I faced was against a teammate.
Instead of dwelling on the PT, though, let’s examine the deck and why it’s a good choice for upcoming Standard events.
The Deck List
The one unusual thing about our deck list and the reason we felt advantaged in the mirror is the presence of See the Unwritten. This card takes the deck to a whole new level of explosiveness. It’s hard to grasp how powerful this card can be before you see it in action, but I’ll do my best to explain where, when, and why See the Unwritten is so good.
First, the above deck list features 10 creatures that enable ferocious (12 if you count the Gods), making it very easy to get two creatures off See the Unwritten, particularly in matchups like monsters or the devotion mirror where your creatures don’t die as often. When you pass the turn with not one, not two, but three giant monsters as early as turn 4, nothing short of End Hostilities is going to get your opponent back into the game.
Even in the cases where you cast See the Unwritten without ferocious, sometimes just spiking a Hornet Queen or Doomwake Giant is all you need to swing the game in your favor. At minimum, it will buy you time to cast a second copy, which ought to put you firmly in the driver’s seat.
See the Unwritten is excellent with enters-the-battlefield triggers, and Hornet Queen and Doomwake Giant aren’t the only ones that you have access to. Getting multiple draw triggers off Eidolon of Blossoms will put you in a position to have an even bigger turn next time you untap, and is a good way to protect yourself against the board sweepers that would otherwise be such a problem. Nylea’s Disciple out of the sideboard makes for even more gamechanging moments in the applicable matchups. Courser of Kruphix, the monstrocity creatures, and the Gods can also offer immediate, guaranteed value in the right circumstances. See the Unwritten has special synergy with Pharika, God of Affliction, as it puts the remaining six or seven cards into your graveyard.
The single greatest appeal of the card, though, is how easy it becomes to get multiple Doomwake Giants into play at the same time. When you get to put two Doomwake Giants into play off See the Unwritten, you give all of your opponent’s creatures -4/-4 right away. In general, multiple Doomwake Giants generally gives you the ability to Plague Wind your opponent every turn for the rest of the game, and this build of G(b) Devotion does it better than any other deck in the format.
Hornet Queen is another great reason to play the deck, and works hand in hand with See the Unwritten. I used to be overly attached to Genesis Hydra, but have since come to the realization that Hornet Queen and See the Unwritten are simply faster, more explosive, and play more to the strengths of Green Devotion. Genesis Hydra is great with planeswalkers, but some of the best planeswalkers have rotated out of Standard (Domri Rade and Garruk, Caller of Beasts) and others have lost a lot of their former value (Xenagos, the Reveler struggles against Mantis Rider and Nissa, Worldwaker struggles against Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker).
Instead, Hornet Queen has a huge immediate impact on the board and corrects two of the primary weaknesses of Green Devotion: flying creatures and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion.
Most creature decks are stopped dead in their tracks by five deathtouching creatures. If you think I’m exaggerating the value of Hornet Queen, I encourage you to browse through the Top 8 deck lists from the Pro Tour. Six of them would have virtually no chance to beat Hornet Queen before sideboard in any kind of close game (although I’ll grant that Hushwing Gryff is quite good against it).
The constellation engine is another big reason to play the deck, and it’s the main incentive to choose black as your splash color instead of red, blue, or white. Doomwake Giant is one of the keys to the deck, and allows you to crush many creature matchups almost singlehandedly.
Eidolon of Blossoms, while I wouldn’t describe it as one of the key cards (we wound up only playing two copies), is a very useful tool. It helps ensure that you don’t flood out, and is important in slower, grindier matchups.
It’s hard to put percentages on this matchup because Abzan can come in so many different forms. However, I’ll say that I’m generally very happy when my opponent leads with a Sandsteppe Citadel. If they don’t have board sweepers (I’m talking End Hostilities, not Drown in Sorrow), they cannot get above a 50% win rate against you.
Moreover, every card in their deck that’s not either a removal spell or a game-winner like Elspeth, Sun’s Champion is a huge liability against Green Devotion. Every Fleecemane Lion, Rakshasa Deathdealer, or yes, even the dreaded Siege Rhino, that they draw is very close to a dead card against you, and makes it much harder for them to win.
The games you’re most likely to lose are the ones where they go Thoughtseize, removal, removal, removal, Elspeth.
Again, the ideal sideboarding will change based on small variations in your opponent’s deck list. Consider things like Arbor Colossus being good against Wingmate Roc. Nylea, God of the Hunt and Doomwake Giant are generally unexciting, but are necessary for beating opposing Elspeths and Hornet Queens. All that said, the changes I’ve suggested are a good, safe starting point for when you don’t know exactly what your opponent will have.
Thoughtseize is a card that’s historically been at odds with the mana ramp strategy. However, in a world where you don’t know if your midrange opponents will be boarding in End Hostilities, Thoughtseize has proven itself to be very valuable. I’ll likely play four in my sideboard the next time I play this deck.
Sideboarding out a couple of mana sources is a good technique for grindy matchups, and also hedges your bets a little bit against board sweepers. Voyaging Satyr is my go-to, but sometimes I’ll sideboard out the fourth copy of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. I sideboarded out my Elvish Mystics when I faced Jeremy Dezani and his Mardu Planeswalker deck, which I knew contained four copies of Chandra, Pyromaster.
Jeskai is a very close matchup but, like Abzan, in the absence of End Hostilities, Green Devotion is slightly favored. Protect your life total as best you can until you can land a Hornet Queen or otherwise create a winning board state. Your best cards are Arbor Colossus, Nylea’s Disciple, and oddly enough, Thoughtseize.
If you told me two months ago that I’d be sideboarding in Thoughtseize and Nylea’s Disciple in the same matchup, I would’ve said you were crazy. However, the strange (and challenging) thing about playing against Jeskai is how many different ways the game can play out. In some, they’ll try to burn you out, and in others they’ll try to control the game with End Hostilities and Dig Through Time. Thoughtseize and Nylea’s Disciple are both adept at dismantling one of Jeskai’s common ways of winning, and having both in the matchup makes it hard for them to play against you.
At the Pro Tour, Abzan and Jeskai were the two most played decks. They were also the most successful archetypes, putting three each into the Top 8. I enjoy playing against these decks with Green Devotion and feel that they’re both favorable (if close) matchups. As I alluded to earlier, I would’ve felt favored playing Green Devotion against six of the Top 8 deck lists.
Along those lines, though, I need to touch on the bad matchups for the deck.
Combo Decks and “Combo” Decks
Green Devotion shines against opponents seeking to play fair, as it can quickly and reliably set up a dominant board position. Unfortunately, though, it’s relatively slow to actually close out a game, and therefore struggles against decks that don’t interact and instead try to steal wins through other means.
The most obvious example is the format’s dedicated combo deck, Jeskai Ascendancy. You’re a huge underdog in game one, basically relying on them having a bad draw if you want to win. After sideboarding, Thoughtseize helps, but you’re still an underdog.
Fortunately, Jeskai Ascendancy just isn’t a great deck, and I don’t expect it to ever reach particularly high levels of popularity. If it were a better deck, or if for some reason I expected a spike in popularity, I would sideboard multiple copies of Stain the Mind, as that’s the easiest way for G(b) Devotion to win the matchup. A card like Unravel the Aether would also be helpful, and would have applications elsewhere.
The other “combo” deck that represents a bad matchup is U/W Heroic. They have too many ways to make their creatures unblockable and they’re too hard to race. You can win if you have a great draw or if you catch them with a sideboard card like Setessan Tactics, but the matchup is realistically about 70% in favor of Heroic.
Dedicated control decks also tend to be bad matchups. End Hostilities is the nightmare card for Green Devotion. Fortunately, the only control player to break through to the Top 8 was Ivan Floch with U/B Control, and his deck didn’t feature dedicated board sweepers. (The Pantheon’s U/B Control list had Perilous Vault, which is also a problem card).
Against a deck like Ivan’s, you’ll have a puncher’s chance if you get a good draw, but between Despise, Thoughtseize, Disdainful Stroke, Dissolve, and a dumptruck full of spot removal, it’s hard to get any traction.
I’ve had the most success in this type of matchup by really cheating on mana sources. Your best way to win is have a series of good topdecks in the midgame, and maximizing the number of powerful spells in your deck helps with that.
Stain the Mind is in the sideboard for Jeskai Ascendancy and decks that really lean on End Hostilities, but it’s also worth bringing in against U/B Control. If you don’t know their deck list, you should probably name Dig Through Time, but against Floch’s deck in particular, naming Prognostic Sphinx is game over. Other cards you might name in the right circumstances: Pearl Lake Ancient, Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, Perilous Vault, or any card that you’ve seen in their hand from a past Thoughtseize.
Green Devotion is one of the best and most powerful strategies available in Standard. While there are several competitive varieties, I feel that the B(g) See the Unwritten build stands out as the best. If Abzan and Jeskai remain two of the most popular decks—all signs indicate that they will—Green Devotion is a good choice. If decks like Monsters ever make a resurgence, it’ll be a fantastic choice. Try it out for yourself!