HexproofHow To Beat Black Devotion, Magic's New Top Standard DeckHexproof - RSS 2.0
While still represented in most tournaments, fewer players have been on the devotion plan since Born of the Gods. With GP Melbourne in the books, it's probably time to start working on your game against devotion again.
GP Melbourne ran this past weekend, sporting over 900 players, which is the largest Magic tournament Australia has ever seen. Whether or not you keep up with the competitive scene, these events have a major impact in what you'll be squaring off against at your next Friday Night Magic, or even casual play night at your local hobby shop. You may have noticed a trend away from mono-colored devotion-based decks in recent weeks, at least among the top 64 competitors at GP Melbourne. That's probably going to change now, since mono-Black Devotion took the top spot, piloted by Nam Sung-Wook of South Korea.
The Top 8 Decklists are surprisingly varied, ranging from Jund and Esper Control to Blue and Black flavors of Devotion. While this speaks to a healthy metagame, you can also be sure that people will flock to the winning deck; mono-Black Devotion. While you definitely need to be prepared to fight this deck at your next FNM, you don't want to over-prepare for it either, because that will leave you vulnerable to... well... everything else. You'll want a decent game against everything in the Top 8, which basically runs the gamut of styles.
One of the work horses in mono-Black Devotion is, Pack Rat, which creates an endless wave of increasingly beefy copies, furthering your board presence as well as your devotion count. That begs the question, how do you deal with a self-replicating critter that gets bigger each time a new one spawns? Three things immediately spring to mind. Pithing Needle is the most universal option, being playable in any color or combination. Just name Pack Rat when it resolves, and you're good to go. You're pretty much in the clear from that particular threat for the rest of the game, barring multiple Mutavaults pumping the lonely rat.
Depending on what you're aiming to play, another reliable option is Detention Sphere. This will clear out every single Pack Rat on the board, and they can't respond with an activation, since it'll resolve first, and the new rat will be consumed along with the rest of them. If your opponent goes all in on the Rat Plan, this will act like a one-sided sweeper. It's also conveniently in the right colors for the uncounterable Supreme Verdict. Not every deck wants to play a full blown sweeper, though, and Detention Sphere handles any number of problem permanents, so if you're not running a build that wants the full Wrath of God effect, run some Spheres and you'll be in fairly good shape. It also takes out Underworld Connections, which is both card advantage and devotion count, making it a stellar target.
Additionally, if you're also playing with Swamps, you've got the Black equivalent of Detention Sphere in Bile Blight. You'll need to catch the rats early to ensure they can't be pumped out of range, but it'll take out a couple of them handily. There's always the possibility that you'llbe playing with Pack Rat yourself, so try to plan ahead, so your own rats don't get caught up in the Blight. There's also Dark Betrayal, which is cheap enough removal to immediately nuke an unprotected rat.
The rats are only the most persistent part of the problem. You'll really need to watch out for Desecration Demon for his giant body, as well as devotion dudes, like Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Erebos, God of the Dead. People are only running one or two Erebos for the most part, and he just becomes a giant indestructible creature when you hit your five devotion. That's obviously not good, but there are ways to deal with that. The merchant, on the other hand, just lands and drains you, offering potentially insane life swings at crucial points in the game. Think you've finally stabilized with Elspeth, Sun's Champion generating endless blockers? If they're sitting on a couple of permanents, this guy can end the game on his own, simply by resolving. While your Detention Sphere may stop Erebos in his tracks, Gray Merchant must be countered to stop him from impacting the game. Torpor Orb is out of Standard, so your best bet is to try to keep their devotion count low to keep Merchant from getting out of hand.
What if the shoe's on the other foot, and you're the one playing Devotion? Unfortunately, there aren't a lot (read: none) of options in Black to remove enchantments or artifacts, so Detention Sphere and Pithing Needle will basically just ruin your fun. Keep them in mind and try to play around them, especially after sideboarding. For example, you might avoid committing more than one Pack Rat to the board, since it can just copy itself.If you want to get cute, you can always run a few scry and/or shock lands and some way to remove artifacts and enchantments. It shouldn't hurt your mana much at all, and may give you an out in a sticky situation. It's also not something I've seen much of at the competitive level, so you may well take someone by surprise!
Finally, you've got the disruptive approach in Thoughtseize, which just discards whatever problem cards they may be holding when you cast it. If you're running a playset of Hero's Downfall, for example, it might be worth getting rid of a needle or removal, instead of a powerful planeswalker, and just rely on Downfall to take it out a la carte.
Whether you're heading to FNM, or just playing at the kitchen table, there's a good chance you'll run into mono-Black Devotion, or you may be running it yourself. It's a relatively straightforward game plan, making the deck more accessible than, say, Esper Control, which requires a ton of decision making every turn. It's not as simple as a straight aggro plan, of course , but falls nicely in the middle somewhere, making it a great option for virtually all skill levels. Keep these options in mind when you're building out your deck, whichever side of the devotion fence you fall on, and take to the comments below to offer your own suggestions for combating the seemingly inevitable tide of Devotion decks.