Ever watch the movie Yes Man, with Jim Carey and Zooey Deschanel? It’s about this guy who is negative and close-minded, and who is changed by this motivational speaker who touts always saying “Yes!” to opportunities presented to you (no matter how absurd the opportunity or request is).

We live in a world where we have become conditioned to say no. Advertisements pepper the television and internet, persuading us to spend our money on things that we don’t need. Buy branded carbonated syrup as opposed to the store brand! Everything in our world is branded and advertised, in an attempt to create positive associations for a brand, a logo. We are constantly under siege, bombarded by advertisements. So we become conditioned to constantly say no. No I don’t have the money to buy this AND that. No, I don’t really need that Lexus; a Toyota will do just fine. It is profitable to constantly say no.

It’s really easy to bring that attitude to everyday life, especially with deckbuilding. Deckbuilding constitutes millions of different deck construction options. When you have a card pool of around 1,000 cards and a 60-card deck, there are a lot of possibilities. And this can be rather overwhelming. As players get better at the game, this 1,000-card pool shrinks to around 250 cards. A lot of cards are just never going to be Constructed playable. There are plenty of 2/1s for 2 running around that will only impact draft formats, and that’s fine. Even with a 250-card pool to work with, there are millions of decisions to make. It’s really easy to be close-minded during deck building: “Well [card]Tidebinder Mage[/card] is only a 2/2 for 2 mana with upside half the time. 2/2s for 2 aren’t that good.”

I heard that sentiment more than once when discussing the possibility of building a blue devotion deck. Even I had my doubts about playing the card in the main deck. Well 2/2s for 2 are much better when they are UU and not RR, considering the power level of blue and red creatures respectively. 2/2s for 2 that attack and draw a card with a [card]Bident of Thassa[/card] in play are extremely good, doing their best [card]Ophidian[/card] impression. 2/2s for 2 that play a tempo game by shutting down your opponent’s [card]Elvish Mystic[/card] on the play, or your opponent’s [card Purphoros, God of the Forge]red deity[/card] are powerful indeed. Decks are a sum of their parts, and like any good tempo deck, blue devotion decks exemplify this.

Synergy plays a huge role in deck construction. People sometimes just dismiss cards that are doing a lot of different things, or are doing something that they can’t easily compare to something else. Players undervalued [card]Spellstutter Sprite[/card], [card]Tarmogoyf[/card], [card]Dark Confidant[/card], [card]Mirari’s Wake[/card], [card]Astral Slide[/card], [card]Squadron Hawk[/card], [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card], and [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] (I don’t think people were truly dismissive of that card, but few truly grasped just how broken the card is). Devotion is unique and hard to evaluate. Devotion is similar to affinity in a sense. Pro Tour Theros was totally defined by a mechanic overlooked and undervalued by many.

Truthfully, it takes both an active imagination and a desire to experiment to become a good deckbuilder. Ben Rubin is a great example of this. Ben is a very open-minded person, and is good at listening to what people have to say. He likes to try out new decks and is willing to fail. You have to be willing to fail—writing out deck lists, imagining how games could play out, goldfishing the deck, trying out deck lists in testing—that’s all important, and a lot of deck lists never make it past the writing stage. A lot of deck lists don’t goldfish well and are modified or discarded. The first deck you try out, it doesn’t work, but you learn something and you try again. Deck building is not supposed to be easy, and close-minded thinking is the quickest way to ensure that you won’t be designing an innovative deck.

I was somewhat dismissive of non-red or green devotion decks from the outset. I saw the power of [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card], of the red and green Gods, and the monstrous mana sinks powered by [card]Nykthos, Shrine the Nyx[/card]. I did not see the blue deck because I couldn’t imagine playing [card]Tidebinder Mage[/card] and [card]Cursecatcher[/card] in a devotion deck. Yet, mono-blue devotion is a force in Standard, and devotion in general is going to define Standard in a big way. Onto the deck lists:

Jeremy Dezani – Mono-Blue Devotion
First Place PT Theros

[deck]Main Deck
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
21 Island
3 Mutavault
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]

With eight 1-drops, Jeremy is getting out of the gates quickly. [card]Cloudfin Raptor[/card] quickly grows to 2/3 or 3/4, and [card]Judge’s Familiar[/card] can be an annoying card to play against, proactively protecting your creatures from removal and making other spells look expensive. [card]Frostburn Weird[/card] is good at playing defense and attacking for 4 later in the game, while [card]Tidebinder Mage[/card] is a bear with big upside against decks packing red and green creatures. Note that [card]Tidebinder Mage[/card] even can tap down opposing [card]Frostburn Weird[/card]s in the mirror or against other decks that might be packing Weirds like Grixis or UWR Control. [card]Tidebinder Mage[/card] is well suited for the current format. A pair of [card]Omenspeaker[/card]s smooth out the decks draws and give the deck another warm body with a blue mana symbol in its casting cost. Curving out is really strong and important for quickly turning on devotion cards, as well as making [card]Cloudfin Raptor[/card] large.

For 3-drops, Jeremy plays [card]Nightveil Specter[/card] and [card]Thassa, God of the Sea[/card]. The Specter is enormous for devotion, and it’s a good evasive creature that is especially good when playing against other blue decks (or when it spikes a Nykthos against other devotion decks!)

[draft]thassa, god of the sea[/draft]

[card]Thassa, God of the Sea[/card] is the centerpiece of the deck. Thassa is a legend, but the deck always wants her in play, hence the four copies. Thassa blocks extremely well for a blue creature, only costs 3 mana, and is an enormous threat. Her scry 1 ability ensures that you will draw gas in the midgame, and her activated ability is very good at quickly closing out games. The card does everything for the blue devotion deck.

[draft]Master of Waves[/draft]

[card]Master of Waves[/card] is quite the curve topper at 4 mana. He makes a bunch of Elementals when he comes into play, anywhere from one to ten. Master often demands an immediate answer from the opponent. Fortunately, [card]Master of Waves[/card] has protection from red—water does beat fire after all, and the Master of Waves is rather adept at extinguishing red decks (as Kamiel found out in his quarterfinal match of the Pro Tour).

The deck is rounded out with some card advantage in the form of [card]Jace, Architect of Thought[/card] and [card]Bident of Thassa[/card] for card drawing/extra utility against creature decks, and three bounce spells. 20 Islands and 3 [card]Mutavault[/card]s make for a very solid mana base. [card]Mutavault[/card] is very good in this deck—it’s a 3/3 with a [card]Master of Waves[/card], and it can attack and draw a card with a Bident in play. It looks like Jeremy felt like [card]Jace, Architect of Thought[/card] was superior to the Bident in the deck and went with the 2 Jace/1 Bident split. Jace is certainly better at protecting your life total against aggressive decks—Bident is good at providing the mono-blue deck with a steady stream of card advantage, and can force aggro decks to make really bad attacks into indestructible Thassas and the like.

Ultimately, this deck (as is true with all the devotion decks) is a synergy decks. [card]Master of Waves[/card] gets better the more blue mana symbols (blue permanents) that you have in play. Thassa becomes an indestructible creature if you have five blue devotion. [card]Cloudfin Raptor[/card] doesn’t do anything unless you play creatures to make it larger. What this means is that devotion decks in general are hurt more by mulligans. They need a critical mass of permanents to operate effectively. You can mulligan and still be fine, but a hand like Island, Island, [card]Mutavault[/card], [card]Cloudfin Raptor[/card], [card]Bident of Thassa[/card], [card]Jace, Architect of Thought[/card] on six cards is just awful.

It does, however, have a lot of ways to manipulate its draws with [card]Thassa, God of the Sea[/card], [card]Omenspeaker[/card], and the 4-drops that draw cards so that it can play through removal spells and mulligans. The blue deck may stumble a bit on mulligans, but it can use its library manipulation to ensure that it draws good cards and continues to develop its board.

So 3 of the top 8 decks of the Pro Tour were mono-blue devotion, all of them advanced to the semifinals, and two of them advanced to the finals. Meaning that ignoring mirror matches, the deck did not lose a single match in the Top 8. Pretty impressive. Jeremy’s teammate Pierre lost to Jeremy in the finals playing close to a carbon copy of Jeremy’s deck, and Sam Black finished in 3rd with a similar Mono-Blue list running two extra lands (the fourth [card]Mutavault[/card] and a [card]Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx[/card]) and 3 [card]Bident of Thassa[/card]/1 [card]Jace, Architect of Thought[/card] maindeck. Here is Sam’s list for comparison:

[deck]Main Deck
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
20 Island
4 Mutavault
1 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Sideboard:
2 Aetherling
1 Dissolve
3 Gainsay
3 Jace, Architect of Thought
2 Negate
1 Omenspeaker
3 Rapid Hybridization[/deck]

All three players are playing [card]Negates[/card], Jaces, and [card]Aetherling[/card]s in the sideboard. Sam’s list is playing a full three [card]Rapid Hybridization[/card] in the sideboard. [card]Rapid Hybridization[/card] is a really powerful card out of the sideboard against creatures that must be killed. It kills [card]Stormbreath Dragon[/card]s, [card]Ember Swallower[/card]s, [card]Arbor Colossus[/card]es, and [card polukranos, eater of worlds]Polunkranos[/card] for only a single blue mana. It’s also very good against other devotion decks at lowering their devotion. [card]Master of Waves[/card] is also a great card to Hybridize, killing off the opponents Elementals at the same time.

[draft]gainsay[/draft]

The [card]Gainsay[/card]s in the board are excellent, especially for after the Pro Tour with the rising tide of blue devotion decks. Jeremy is playing [card]Wall of Frost[/card] for other creature decks—with 7 toughness the wall is difficult to take down by burn spells and other creatures, and it punishes the opponent for attacking by keeping the blocked creature tapped.

In fourth place, Makihito Mihara played a green-based devotion deck splashing red for [card]Domri Rade[/card] and [card]Xenagos, the Reveler[/card], as well as other cards out of the sideboard:

Makihito Mihara Colossal Gruul:

[deck]Main Deck
3 Arbor Colossus
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Elvish Mystic
2 Nylea, God of the Hunt
4 Polukranos, World Eater
3 Scavenging Ooze
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Voyaging Satyr
3 Domri Rade
4 Garruk, Caller of Beasts
2 Xenagos, the Reveler
9 Forest
2 Mountain
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
4 Stomping Ground
4 Temple of Abandon
Sideboard
2 Burning Earth
2 Chandra, Pyromaster
1 Destructive Revelry
1 Mistcutter Hydra
3 Mizzium Mortars
2 Nylea’s Disciple
1 Sylvan Primordial
2 Wasteland Viper
1 Xenagos, the Reveler[/deck]

Every single card in the main deck of Makihito’s list is a green permanent or a land. He views the deck as a combo deck, where [card]Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx[/card] (with or without) [card]Voyaging Satyr[/card] creates a lot of mana. The deck also runs [card]Elvish Mystic[/card] and [card]Sylvan Caryatid[/card] to create truly explosive starts, and Xenagos’s mana ability can also be used to great effect in this deck. Colossal Gruul plays 28 creatures giving [card]Domri Rade[/card] plenty of creatures to hit with its +1 ability, and between [card]Polukranos, World Eater[/card], [card]Arbos Colossus[/card] and [card]Nylea, God of the Hunt[/card] the deck has plenty of large creatures for fighting the opponent’s creatures with Domri’s -2 ability. [card]Garruk, Caller of Beasts[/card] gives the deck a consistent stream of creatures in the midgame, and the deck has more than enough mana sources to rapidly play them.

[draft]nykthos, shrine to nyx[/draft]

Makihito’s creature-combo deck makes good use of [card]Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx[/card]. A curve like [card]Elvish Mystic[/card] into [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card], [card]Voyaging Satyr[/card] into Nykthos to generate approximately a million mana is common. The deck just has so much redundancy with 12 mana creatures and 4 [card]Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx[/card] that it is extremely consistent in ramping into monstrous creatures and then making them huge, or playing a turn 4 Garruk and drawing two to three creatures a turn off of it. [card]Polukranos, World Eater[/card] is good at killing off problematic creature(s), and [card]Arbor Colossus[/card] can shoot down [card]Stormbreath Dragon[/card]s and [card]Nightveil Specter[/card]s with ease.

The deck’s 9 planeswalkers give the deck some staying power against mass removal. One thing that I really like about Makihito’s deck is how many red mana sources he has in it. Casting [card]Domri Rade[/card] and [card]Xenagos, the Reveler[/card] is very easy. Colossal Gruul has ten lands that produce red mana, 4 [card burning-tree emmisary]Burning-Tree Emissaries[/card] that produce red mana once, 4 [card]Voyaging Satyr[/card]s that can untap a red land (or untap a Nykthos with a [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] in play to filter green mana into red mana), 4 [card]Sylvan Caryatid[/card], and [card]Xenagos, the Reveler[/card]. This deck legitimately has the capacity to overload Mortars—it won’t happen every game but it is possible, which is crazy in a deck only running lands that produce green mana.

The plan of beating control decks with hard-to-kill threats like Nylea, [card]Burning Earth[/card], and planeswalkers is a strong one. Against other aggro decks you can go over the top of them by accelerating into huge creatures, using [card]Nylea’s Disciple[/card], [card]Wasteland Viper[/card], and [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card] out of the sideboard to slow down the game. [card]Mistcutter Hydra[/card] out of the sideboard is a hasty threat as well against control decks, and [card]Destructive Revelry[/card] can blow up problematic artifacts and [card]Detention Sphere[/card]s. All in all I’m impressed by the raw power of the Colossal Gruul deck.

The other devotion deck from the Top 8, Kamiel Cornelissen’s mono-red devotion deck, is also capable of powerful things. It has a similar midrange game as the red devotion deck that I wrote about a few weeks ago that splashed green, except Kamiel’s list is more streamlined and mono-colored. Here is the deck list:

Mono-Red Devotion:

[deck]Main Deck
4 Frostburn Weird
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Ash Zealot
4 Boros Reckoner
3 Ember Swallower
3 Purphoros, God of the Forge
4 Stormbreath Dragon
4 Magma Jet
2 Hammer of Purphoros
1 Mizzium Mortars
1 Chandra, Pyromaster
21 Mountain
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
1 Mutavault
Sideboard:
2 Chandra’s Phoenix
3 Anger of the Gods
3 Mizzium Mortars
1 Hammer of Purphoros
1 Chandra, Pyromaster
2 Burning Earth
3 Peak Eruption[/deck]

[card]Frostburn Weird[/card] and [card]Ash Zealot[/card] give the deck solid turn two creatures that are good at both attacking and blocking. [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] can be played on turn two as well, though it is often played on turn 3 in conjunction with a Nykthos to generate 4 mana (Assuming you played another creature on turn 2) or in conjunction with [card]Hammer of Purphoros[/card]. [card]Boros Reckoner[/card] is one of the most efficient creatures in the format, and is great at increasing your devotion to red as well as dominating combat.

The monstrosity abilities on the [card]Ember Swallower[/card]s and [card]Stormbreath Dragon[/card]s are good uses for extra Nykthos mana, and Purphoros’s pump ability is powerful (especially in conjunction with [card]Ash Zealot[/card]’s first strike). [card]Hammer of Purphoros[/card] turns extra lands (and extra Nykthos’) into 3/3 haste creatures (that also shock the opponent if you have a Purphoros in play). [card]Chandra, Pyromancer[/card] rounds out the deck and is solid at sniping [card]Elvish Mystic[/card]s and the like and drawing extra cards. The Chandra in conjunction with the Purphoros are threats that you can afford to play out that don’t die to mass removal, which is important against the control decks of the format.

[draft]magma jet[/draft]

I love the [card]Magma Jet[/card]s in this deck. I might split the numbers differently between [card]Magma Jet[/card] and [card]Mizzium Mortar[/card]s, like 3 Jets + 2 Mortars, but I completely agree with playing [card]Magma Jet[/card] in the deck. [card]Magma Jet[/card] smooths out your draws well and lets you hit early land drops without flooding out. I made a similar change to my build of red devotion, adding 3 [card]Magma Jet[/card]s. This deck has no acceleration other than [card]Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx[/card], so both being able to scry towards Nykthos and just being able to scry toward your 4th land drop is huge. Conversely, scrying to threats when you keep a hand like [card]Magma Jet[/card], [card]Ember Swallower[/card], [card]Stormbreath Dragon[/card], and four Mountains is really good.

Post-sideboard, mono-red devotion gets some weapons against aggro and control decks. Against aggro decks Kamiel gains access to the full four [card]Mizzium Mortar[/card]s, as well as three [card]Anger of the Gods[/card]. [card]Anger of the Gods[/card] is not necessarily a card that aggro decks are expecting to face post-board from this deck. [card]Ash Zealot[/card], [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card], and [card]Boros Reckoner[/card] in Kamiel’s deck all die to [card]Anger of the Gods[/card]. [card]Frostburn Weird[/card] doesn’t, which is nice when the trying to get the opponent with [card]Anger of the Gods[/card] without making it too obvious. You don’t want to telegraph that you are holding [card]Anger of the Gods[/card] when you have it in your opening hand.

[draft]anger of the gods[/draft]

One way to level the opponent with [card]Anger of the Gods[/card] in hand is by selling your opponent on the idea that you can’t cast any spells on turn two. Tank a little bit on your post-board keep, maybe throw in a small frown before keeping. Then go turn one Mountain, turn two [card]Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx[/card]. The only cards that the mono-red deck can cast off of a two-land Mountain, Nykthos hand are [card]Magma Jet[/card] and [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card]. [card]Frostburn Weird[/card], [card]Ash Zealot[/card], and [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] all need two red mana to be cast. So not playing anything on turn two with only one red source in play doesn’t necessarily mean that you are holding [card]Anger of the Gods[/card]—the opponent might think that you’re stuck with some RR creatures in your hand. [card]Anger of the Gods[/card] is good against blue devotion, mono-red aggro, and mono-white aggro. I’m not sure that you want to slow down your development against GW aggro to cast [card]Anger of the Gods[/card], honestly. It might be fine against them if you are on the play.

Against control decks, the mono-red deck gains access to another [card]Chandra, Pyromancer[/card], two [card]Chandra’s Phoenix[/card], the third [card]Hammer of Purphoros[/card], three [card]Peak Eruption[/card]s, and two [card]Burning Earth[/card]. [card]Hammer of Purphoros[/card], the extra [card chandra, pyromaster]Chandra[/card] and her [card chandra’s phoenix]Phoenix[/card] are good against a lot of different control decks. Chandra can buy back any Phoenixes after they die. I suspect that Kamiel may keep in one or two [card]Magma Jet[/card]s against other control decks even though a Shock isn’t that great against them, because [card]Magma Jet[/card] still provides a little value and rebuys [card]Chandra’s Phoenix[/card]. [card]Burning Earth[/card] is good against the three-color control decks, and [card]Peak Eruption[/card] is good against any red-based control deck (especially if they are packing [card]Chained to the Rocks[/card]).

There are a lot of other sweet decks from the Pro Tour, and maybe I will get a chance to cover some of them later on. I ended up playing a modified version of my red devotion list splashing green to a 5-2 record at States, losing my win-and-in round when I was at 5-1. I lost to Jund in round seven (who lost in the semifinals) and my round four opponent playing mono-red aggro (with Reckoners and Fanatics MD) who ended up winning the tournament. I did not have a good sideboard plan for the Jund matchup. [card]Desecration Demon[/card] and [card]Reaver of the Wilds[/card] made it difficult for me to make profitable attacks, and their early removal spells were effective at slowing me down enough for their large creatures to take over. After the tournament I added 2 [card]Ghor-Clan Rampager[/card] to the sideboard to give me a way to attack though large creatures that my burn spells can’t kill.

The matchup is somewhat draw dependent. The more [card]Boros Reckoner[/card]s that they draw in conjunction with [card]Fanatic of Mogis[/card], the harder the matchup is for me. My game plan is to burn their creatures to preserve my life total and weaken their Fanatics, then grind them out with bigger creatures. Here’s my updated deck list:

[deck]Main Deck
4 Ash Zealot
2 Frostburn Weird
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
2 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Boros Reckoner
2 Hammer of Purphoros
3 Ember Swallower
2 Fanatic of Mogis
2 Purphoros, God of the Forge
2 Xenagos, the Reveler
3 Stormbreath Dragon
3 Magma Jet
2 Mizzium Mortars
14 Mountain
4 Temple of Abandon
4 Stomping Ground
3 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Sideboard:
3 Burning Earth
2 Domri Rade
1 Xenagos, the Reveler
2 Mizzium Mortars
2 Flames of the Firebrand
2 Lightning Strike
2 Ghor-Clan Rampager
1 Chandra, Pyromancer[/deck]

California States was a well run, fun tournament. Big props to everyone that lent me cards for my deck, especially Zal Halol who lent me a lot of the cards. The store that States was held at was awesome; being in the middle of Chinatown in Los Angeles was about the nut high as far as food options were concerned (I love Asian food). The group of people I was with settled on a Chinese place that really epitomized the term “value.” For all of $4.25, I got Chow Mein and Pork Meat Balls, as well as soup, rice, and tea (and the portions were well sized). You can’t really argue with that much food at that price.

I think that the devotion decks coming out of the Pro Tour will have a huge impact on Standard. It will be interesting to see how the control decks of the format adapt. Both Makihito Colossal Gruul deck and Kamiel’s mono-red devotion deck have access to [card]Burning Earth[/card] post-sideboard to punish three-color control decks. The mono-blue devotion decks can play [card]Thassa, God of the Sea[/card], [card]Jace, Architect of Thought[/card], and [card]Bident of Thassa[/card] as threatening cards that can’t be killed by [card]Supreme Verdict[/card]. [card]Mutavault[/card]s can also peck away at the control deck’s life total, synergizing very well with [card]Bident of Thassa[/card] as a [card]Supreme Verdict[/card]-resistant [card]Ophidian[/card]. I definitely want to test the various flavors of control out, and see how they fare against the devotion decks, but I suspect the mono-blue devotion deck will be making the biggest waves in the evolving Standard format.

Take care,

Eric Heumann