Last weekend, I went to the SCG Standard Open in Indianapolis and took 1st place, which was a pretty excellent way to start the year. I did it with my old standby Mono-Black Devotion as well, which felt extra sweet. I have been raving about how great the deck is, I even tell people that I think it’s a big mistake to join a Standard tournament and not play the deck. I don’t think it’s a broken deck or that something needs to be banned, but I would bet that the deck just has a higher win percentage in all matchups than other decks. You won’t get total blowouts, but having no bad matchups and sitting down as a favorite before the cards get shuffled is as good as it gets for Constructed Magic. The deck list I played isn’t in any way revolutionary, but is a culmination of all the work I have done in Standard. I changed exactly 1 total card from when I made Top 8 of the SCG Open in Las Vegas, I cut 1 Swamp for 1 [ccProd]Temple of Deceit[/ccProd].

[deck]Main Deck
4 Desecration Demon
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
4 Nightveil Specter
4 Pack Rat
4 Underworld Connections
4 Devour Flesh
4 Hero’s Downfall
2 Pharika’s Cure
4 Thoughtseize
18 Swamp
4 Mutavault
4 Temple of Deceit
Sideboard
3 Lifebane Zombie
3 Dark Betrayal
2 Pharika’s Cure
3 Erebos, God of the Dead
4 Duress[/deck]

This deck is great, and my recent success with the deck can be explained by a few factors. First of all, I started by playing Mono-Blue Devotion at Pro Tour Theros to an unexciting 5-5 finish, then again at the Invitational where I went 1-3, which was the straw the broke the camel’s back. I tested with a ton of decks like mono-red aggro, White Weenie, mono-black aggro—even UW Control and Esper. I never had great results with these decks but they did serve a purpose. The more Standard I played, the more I would face Mono-Black Devotion and lose to it in a million different ways. Between my testing of other decks and my eventual grinding with Mono-Black Devotion, I basically had played every matchup from both sides and was able to learn which cards and deck configurations will give you the best chance of winning. All that losing wasn’t for nothing.

[draft]Pack rat[/draft]

I picked up the deck a week before GP Albuquerque thanks to some urging from Paul Rietzl. I made some changes from the initial list, but the thing that stood out to me most was 4 maindeck [ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd]s. The more I played with the deck the more I loved it, and since then 4 maindeck [ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd] has become a staple of the deck and it would be laughable to try and build the deck without them. They are basically your best card in every matchup and a reliable strategy even against decks with tons of removal—especially against decks with tons of removal. I have never been more confident than I was before that tournament—having 4 [ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd]s main while others did not felt like breaking the format. It’s like playing with [ccProd]Stoneforge Mystic[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Bitterblossom[/ccProd] before people know exactly how good it is and how much to fear it.

[draft]devour flesh
pharika’s cure[/draft]

The other major change that has made the deck much smoother is the shift away from [ccProd]Doom Blade[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Ultimate Price[/ccProd], and toward [ccProd]Devour Flesh[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Pharika’s Cure[/ccProd]. Since Black Devotion has gotten popular, it’s clear to everyone that having [ccProd]Doom Blade[/ccProd] in your main deck is a huge liability and an unacceptable risk. Against a Blue-Devotion deck you can’t even [ccProd]Doom Blade[/ccProd] their [ccProd]Nightveil Specter[/ccProd], which is a very common creature you want to kill. [ccProd]Nightveil Specter[/ccProd] is also the reason I shy away from [ccProd]Ultimate Price[/ccProd]—at Grand Prix Albuquerque there were 28 copies of [ccProd]Nightveil Specter[/ccProd] in the Top 8 deck lists. Playing with [ccProd]Ultimate Price[/ccProd] in a field riddled with [ccProd]Nightveil Specter[/ccProd]s is suicidal. Also, a small thing to note is that [ccProd]Ultimate Price[/ccProd] cannot kill [ccProd]Mutavault[/ccProd], the single most played “creature” in Standard.

[ccProd]Devour Flesh[/ccProd] is not without its downsides, though. It can be embarrassing to draw once the opponent has resolved a [ccProd]Master of Waves[/ccProd], and often, giving the opponent life can make winning a race with [ccProd]Gray Merchant of Asphodel[/ccProd] much harder. Still, I stand by [ccProd]Devour Flesh[/ccProd], since it can kill cards like [ccProd]Boros Reckoner[/ccProd], [ccProd]Frostburn Weird[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Nightveil Specter[/ccProd] if needed. I also like that [ccProd]Devour Flesh[/ccProd] can be cast at any moment, against any creature, without having to worry or care about cards like [ccProd]Brave the Elements[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Boros Charm[/ccProd]. If your opponent has cast a creature spell on turn two and you have [ccProd]Devour Flesh[/ccProd], that creature will die, no questions asked.

The decision to maindeck [ccProd]Pharika’s Cure[/ccProd] was not an easy one, but one that I am incredibly glad I made. It feels odd putting a card like [ccProd]Pharika’s Cure[/ccProd] in your main deck when every other person on planet earth chooses to put it in their sideboard, but I knew I wanted more maindeck removal for the early turns of the game and I also knew I didn’t want to play with [ccProd]Doom Blade[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Ultimate Price[/ccProd], so my options were slim.

Once I made the choice to play all four [ccProd]Devour Flesh[/ccProd] in my removal slots, I knew I had become weaker to the card [ccProd]Master of Waves[/ccProd], and so a few more good clean answers to that card were important, especially given the popularity of Mono-Blue Devotion. I also noticed that my deck was consistently very good against other midrange strategies and that I was weak to hyper-aggressive decks that ran a ton of 1-drop creatures and burn spells. [ccProd]Pharika’s Cure[/ccProd] is the single best black card in Standard for fighting fast aggro decks, so being slightly pre-sideboarded for my worst matchup felt like a smart choice when I considered many of the other matchups to be favorable.

Extra two-mana removal spells help ensure you do not die to opposing [ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd]s and give the illusion of control over what happens in a Mono-Black mirror match. Sometimes you run into problem with [ccProd]Devour Flesh[/ccProd] since the opponent curves [ccProd]Elvish Mystic[/ccProd] into [ccProd]Polukranos[/ccProd] and you’re stuck staring at that [ccProd]Devour Flesh[/ccProd] which doesn’t do anything. [ccProd]Pharika’s Cure[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Devour Flesh[/ccProd] in combination can help clear away smaller creatures so that the Flesh can always kill their biggest and best creature.

Lastly, when you lay out the deck by converted mana cost and take a good careful look at it, the only cards that cost less than three mana are [ccProd]Devour Flesh[/ccProd], [ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd]. Often [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd] can be pretty bad against aggressive decks too, so there aren’t many cards you wish were in your opening hand. With an awesome late-game strategy already, I prefer to hedge a little and play a few more cheap spells to ensure that I do not die before getting a chance to play a real game of Magic.

I made the move up to 4 [ccProd]Temple of Deceit[/ccProd] and am still unsure if this was correct. In matchups like Esper and UW these lands are amazing, and scry 1 is very close to “draw a card” because the games go very long and preventing flood is crucial. I was initially resistant to the idea of playing more of these lands, since the original deck list I played had 3, and I had played thousands of games with the deck and was unable to see their exact effect on a game. They are so unique in their ability that it is very hard to track the exact number of games where a land that comes into play tapped results directly with a loss and the number of games where a scry to the bottom adds enough to your win percentage over a long sample of games to make them worth it. I added the 4th for one reason: the mirror match. The mirror match almost always comes down to topdecking and having a land that can help you dig out of a topdeck war or help you in the early game to find a removal spell you need for that [ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd], a [ccProd]Duress[/ccProd] for their [ccProd]Underworld Connections[/ccProd], or just lands to help you cast the spells you already have is awesome. That’s not even mentioning the ability to see a [ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd] on the top of your library and leave it there, safe from [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd].

The most common question I get about the deck is how to sideboard, so I’ll go over that briefly:

Mirror

Out

[draft]4 Desecration Demon
4 Hero’s Downfall
2 Pharika’s Cure[/draft]

In

[draft]3 Dark Betrayal
3 Erebos, God of the Dead
4 Duress[/draft]

Occasionally I like to keep 2 [ccProd]Hero’s Downfall[/ccProd]s in my deck when I’m on the play instead of two [ccProd]Duress[/ccProd], as additional answers to [ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd].

Mono-Blue Devotion

Out on the Play

[draft]4 Underworld Connections
1 Desecration Demon[/draft]

Out on the Draw

[draft]4 Underworld Connections
1 Pack Rat[/draft]

In

[draft]3 Lifebane Zombie
2 Pharika’s Cure[/draft]

UW Control

Out

[draft]4 Devour Flesh
2 Pharika’s Cure
4 Hero’s Downfall[/draft]

In

[draft]4 Duress
3 Erebos, God of the Dead
3 Lifebane Zombie[/draft]

I sideboard very similarly against Esper Control than I do against UW, but if I suspect [ccProd]Blood Baron of Vizkopa[/ccProd] then I leave in almost all my [ccProd]Devour Flesh[/ccProd] and possibly take out some [ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Gray Merchant of Asphodel[/ccProd].

RG Monsters

Out

[draft]4 Underworld Connections[/draft]

In

[draft]3 Lifebane Zombie
1 Pharika’s Cure[/draft]

White Weenie

Out

[draft]4 Underworld Connections
1 Thoughtseize[/draft]

In

[draft]3 Lifebane Zombie
2 Pharika’s Cure[/draft]

Moving forward with the deck, I feel it is a great choice for any Standard tournament. I would cut 1 Erebos from the board for either a [ccProd]Doom Blade[/ccProd] if you expect a ton of RG Monsters or a [ccProd]Dark Betrayal[/ccProd], for the mirror. Mono-Black Devotion is the best deck in the format—it has 4 [ccProd]Mutavault[/ccProd]s and 4 [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd]s, the undisputed best cards available, which allow you to reduce the number of games you lose to mana flood or opposing nut-draws. [ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd] is an amazing single-card strategy that people have to adapt to—it’s funny the number of times I get a free win as a result of the card and my opponent simply laughs and remarks on how good the card is. Another reason I love this deck is that the more you play it the better it gets—the deck rewards play skill and preparation more than many other decks in Standard. All last weekend I made tons of tricky plays, like [ccProd]Devour Flesh[/ccProd] targeting myself, or killing opposing [ccProd]Banisher Priest[/ccProd]s in my opponent’s draw step to return a [ccProd]Lifebane Zombie[/ccProd] to play and get the trigger on a freshly-drawn card.

The sideboarding guide details what I do most of the time, but not always. I often change how I sideboard based on the cards I see and change it up from time to time. [ccProd]Hero’s Downfall[/ccProd] goes way up in value against control if they have [ccProd]Ashiok[/ccProd], but it’s generally a weak card if they only run 3 Jace and 1 Elspeth. Knowing how to sideboard well with a deck isn’t a skill that can be taught in one article, it is learned through repetition and practice. I often still see myself make mistakes in sideboarding. Still, this should be a good starting point for players picking up the deck.

Owen Turtenwald
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