Carrie On – Musings from Pro Tour Theros

Did you watch the Pro Tour? I didn’t get to see all of it but, as usual, it has me fired up and inspired about Magic.

I think the best thing about this Pro Tour is that it is the first I have known (though I can imagine it has happened before) to have happened straight after the rotation of Standard. This gives players almost no foundation to build off of in deck design. The last couple of Standard Pro Tours have been after the second set in a block (Gatecrash, Dark Ascension, Mirrodin Besieged, and Worldwake). In many of these cases that set is also a small one, reducing the amount of new information to be processed and turned into winning deck lists. This also limits the number of exciting new strategies and decks.

From my own experiences, it is hard enough to decide what to play in the Constructed portion of Pro Tours without having to actually work out the meta. However, the Pro Tour should not be a picnic, so I like this new timing. I also think it led to a much more interesting viewing experience, as there were a large number of new, exciting, and successful decks over the weekend to inspire any player.

“Ah, but wait,” you say, “This isn’t the first Standard tournament after rotation. Far from it. Why, there have been several SCG events including one this very weekend.”

Yeah, and they are still stuck in RTR block. There is basically no similarity between the PT and the SCG tournament that ran alongside it in terms of deck lists—but I’ll come back to this point later.

That’s why I found this PT awesome. When lots of clever people get together to win $40,000, you see the true best decks in the format. This become more true with a brand new environment. Yes, ChannelFireball broke Standard that one time with Caw Blade, but in general it’s a case of tuning pre-existing decks and making meta calls because there just isn’t that much new stuff to work with.

So, what did have an impact this weekend?

Gods, it turns out, are quite meta-defining.

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In Limited (which I may have gotten addicted to recently) the Gods can be a trap. In Sealed, you are unlikely to open enough cards in the appropriate color to attain devotion consistently. Further, the God can prove a pitfall for the unwary player—I have seen players run poor cards in order to occasionally make their one good card work. This isn’t worth it. The Gods are sometimes worth running for their other abilities even if you are not likely to ever reach devotion, but sometimes that shiny mythic just has to rot in your sideboard.

In draft, it is possible to craft a heavily devoted deck, though, again, it shouldn’t be at the expense of a good deck given you won’t have your God every game.

That being said, the rewards are high. When you can get a God active in a Limited game it will truly dominate. I think I have done this a handful of times now and, unless your opponent can quickly remove some of your devotion, then they will quickly be removed from the game.

Gods, however, can be activated much more consistently in Constructed because (spoiler alert) you can choose what cards you play!

If Gods are that good (more spoilers: huge, cheap, indestructible creatures with useful abilities are good), you can design a deck specifically to have sufficient devotion. What was unclear to me before this weekend was whether bending your deck that much to make these cards work was worth it.

Turns out, yes, it is worth it.

We saw every color of devotion in the Top 8 except white. Of the 8 decks, 3 were mono-blue, and 1 each of black, green, and red. Why was mono-blue seemingly more successful? Well, it could be that more people had “found” the deck during testing and therefore more people were playing it. It could be that the people that found mono-blue were, on average, stronger players thus more likely to make the Top 8. However, I’m sure the actual case is that blue gets two good things to do with large amounts of devotion:

[draft]Thassa, god of the sea
Master of Waves[/draft]

Yep, not only does blue have the most aggressively-costed God (the only one at 3 rather than 4 mana) but it also got the only other mythic devotion card in this set, and it’s excellent. [card]Master of Waves[/card] is vulnerable to targeted (non-red) removal as he’ll take all those Elementals with him. If you would have enough devotion to make Thassa alive, though, then [card]Master of Waves[/card] will provide 12 additional power to the board and your opponent can’t just have a single blocker to hold that off. This has got to be game-breaking, possibly more so than an indestructible 5/5. Oh, and did I mention the indestructible 5/5 helps you find your copies of [card]Master of Waves[/card] and helps you avoid drawing multiple copies of itself? None of the other Gods can do that.

None of the other colors has something as powerful as [card]Master of Waves[/card] to do with their devotion. This essentially means you have 8 reasons to be in blue, and only 4 to be in one of the other colors. Don’t get me wrong, I love [card]Gray Merchant of Asphodel[/card]–but he’s no 12 power on turn 4.

I’m not saying this means blue devotion is going to dominate Standard for the foreseeable future (though it might), but I can see why players ended up there and why it ended up being more successful that the other options. Plus, Islands—I mean, who doesn’t want to play Islands?

The other aspect that I think really pushed players towards devotion was the lack of fixing. After Innistrad rotated, we have only the shock lands; [card]Farseek[/card], [card]Arbor Elf[/card], and the Innistrad/M13 check lands were big components in making life easy for the 3-color decks that had become the norm for Standard. Without these, and just the five scry lands from Theros, 2- and 3-colour mana bases are much more awkward. Add to this the motivation devotion gives to staying mono-colored, and suddenly we get basic lands as far as the eye can see. It’s a refreshing change not to see Jund for a bit.

I’ve talked a fair bit about why players ended up running devotion decks but I want to come back to my earlier point about it being completely different from the SCG Opens that have run since the release of Theros.

This week’s SCG Top 8 featured only one deck containing Islands. They had 17 colors between them and not one God. The absence of the Gods is unsurprising when on average the decks were two colors, as you aren’t going to reliably hit devotion. But why is it so different? The week before there were some Gods present in the Top 8, with mono-green making an appearance.

Honestly, I think there are two factors here. One, the internet makes us lazy: rather than think about trying to make new decks we just work with what other people have done recently. As such, we have a bunch of decks that take after their predecessors from the previous Standard season even though there are new tools. I am equally guilty of this. I don’t have time to sit and brew decks for my next event, and even less time to test them to see if they are any good, so I’ll just take something that has worked before (I’m not certain, but this might be the problem that Modern faces at the moment: not enough people are brewing for the meta to shift).

That’s why it’s so great to see the PT right after rotation. We got some of the most clever people in Magic to test for a tournament. Many of them got together in groups for one or two weeks beforehand and have just been hammering out lists and testing them. Someone will have said, “Hey, is devotion worth it?” and, in a good testing group, preconceived notions don’t stifle new ideas, and a deck will be built and thrown through the gauntlet. It’s important when exploring a new format not to dismiss ideas before trying them. If you already know what is going to work, then why are you testing?

Come next week (which includes Game Day for those attending) you should, unsurprisingly, expect to see lots of devotion being paid to Gods, especially blue ones. The question now is, what can you do about it?

Well, the weakness of devotion is its need to put many permanents into play. While the Gods are pretty invulnerable, you can certainly attack the sources of devotion. In many cases, decks use cards with 2 or even 3 colored mana symbols to quickly get devotion online… it sure would be a shame if something were to happen to them…

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We are a bit short of sweepers at the moment but [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] will still do a fine job mopping up all those creatures, plus the fact that it’s uncounterable means even the mono-blue decks don’t have an easy answer to it. You also have [card]Anger of the Gods[/card] as an option. It doesn’t kill [card]Master of Waves[/card], but it does still get all his tokens and most of the rest of mono-blue’s creature lineup. The problem with [card]Anger of the Gods[/card] is that red, at the moment, relies on creatures that will also be killed by it. There were a couple of “big red” or “big red and green” lists knocking around this weekend that can probably use it safely as an answer.

If you are playing green, don’t forget that it currently has some excellent hate pieces in the form of [card]Skylasher[/card] and [card]Mistcutter Hydra[/card] (on a side note, if anyone has a miscut [card]Mistcutter Hydra[/card], I want it). Green is naturally short on spot removal for [card]Master of Waves[/card], but you need to find something. Consider boarding cards like [card]Time to Feed[/card]. If you can deal with the Master you can probably race quite well.

If you want to deal with the Gods themselves then there are a few ways in Standard—most notably [card]Detention Sphere[/card], [card]Fade into Antiquity[/card], and counterspells—but I think the best solution is to deal with the devotion. Of course, in the case of Thassa, she’ll just scry your opponent back into devotion, so maybe a hard answer to her is required.

I’m excited to see what steps Standard will take from here. Can someone concoct an answer to mono-blue devotion? GP Louisville is next weekend, so I’ll be keeping a close eye on that. Whatever you are up to next weekend, if it involves Standard, be sure to not get swept away. Until then feel free to say hi @onionpixie and I’ll see you next week.

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