When I first got into Magic some 12 years ago, some cards were a constant source of discussion. Birds of Paradise was very popular at the time, as were Ravenous Baloth and Exalted Angel. One interesting card that found plenty of popularity was Cabal Coffers. While I was not able to fully appreciate the value of mana costs and mana production at the time, I knew that making a lot of mana meant you could do a lot of things, and that that was always good. The card had just rotated out of Standard though and I had little interest in older formats, so I watched as the card faded away.
Fade away it did, as it has seen very limited competitive play since. For some 10 years after Cabal Coffers, there really were no new lands that could produce large quantities of mana on their own (not counting storage lands). They had pretty much always proven to be abusable, so it made sense. That is why the printing of Nykthos was so surprising to me. Not only was it a big-mana land, but it could theoretically spawn many different decks, unlike Coffers.
Over time, we got to see the power of Nykthos dominate Standard for awhile. Unfortunately, once the hybrid-mana cards from Return to Ravnica block left the format, the tools to sustain most mono-colored devotion decks were simply gone. Now we come to Dragons of Tarkir. The pool of cards in Standard is at its largest since the rotation of RTR and more available cards means more synergy to find with Nykthos.
Today, I want to look at what Dragons of Tarkir offers the Shrine to Nyx—cards that offer a lot of devotion, specifically at lower costs. Burning-Tree Emissary, Frostburn Weird, Nightveil Specter, and Boros Reckoner all allowed the Shrine to make a lot of mana very quickly. In addition, I’ll look for big things to do with all that mana.
Mono-white has never really been a Nykthos deck, largely because Heliod is the weakest God. White has a history of strong 2-drops that cost WW, but even with that fact, Nykthos and white have just never worked out. In Dragons of Tarkir, white devotion potentially picks up the following tools:
Another WW two-drop is nice, although being legendary is actually quite relevant here as we want as many white mana symbols in play as possible. Beyond Anafenza though, the rest of these cards are a bit of a stretch. Ojutai Exemplars is powerful, but Nykthos decks are not known for their noncreature spells. Permanents are king when it comes to devotion afterall and the number of good noncreature permanents for Nykthos is generally not that impressive.
This same argument is what fights against Myth Realized, even though that enchantment is a great use of extra Nykthos mana while boosting your devotion a bit. Secure the Wastes is another mana sink, although one that probably just offers more utility elsewhere. Spear of Heliod is the one card that seems attractive in many of these scenarios though.
In general, it looks like white doesn’t get there and Nykthos will have to look elsewhere. If you are a fan of Modern though, Enduring Ideal might give you a little hope.
Mono-Blue continues to hang around despite being hit very hard by the loss of RTR. People want to abuse Thassa and Master of Waves, rightfully so, but the supporting cast took a hit. Lists are even more aggressive these days, sometimes using Ensoul Artifact as a key player in the deck. Dragons of Tarkir offers quite a boost:
For more discussion about Mono-Blue, Travis Woo recently broke down the archetype.
Most of these cards move in the same aggressive direction. Gudul Lurker and Stratus Dancer essentially slot right in over lesser versions of the same concept, while Shorecrasher Elemental gives us the devotion that Nightveil Specter once did.
I would not expect Mono-Blue Devotion to ever return to tier 1, but these cards might put it back on the map as a tier 2 or 3 deck, which is interesting. Bident of Thassa should be happy, at the very least.
Once, Mono-Black Devotion was the king of Standard. Its reign lasted almost a full year as it threw Pack Rats and Gray Merchants in front of all of the opponents that Standard could offer. With the loss of Return to Ravnica, however, the archetype fell hard and has not even uttered a peep since. Unfortunately for Mono-Black Devotion, Dragons of Tarkir does not offer much in the way of support.
Yep, that would be it. Damnable Pact is strong and can give the deck some of the card advantage it lost with Underworld Connections, but the rest of the shell is still missing far too many components to expect any sort of a comeback.
Mono-Red Devotion, much like blue devotion, has always been aggressive. While the black devotion deck was fine taking over a long game through card advantage and removal, mono-red really wants an explosive start where Nykthos buries the opponent in a huge mana advantage early. Burning-Tree Emissary was a huge help here and often allowed the deck to get away without any 1-drops, although they might make some sense again these days.
Dragon Whisperer is an excellent two-drop that scales well later on into the game. Mardu Scout made for a fine 2-drop already, so now increasing our count to something like 10 two-drops is an option, or perhaps the fact that Scout gets blanked by Courser of Kruphix is too much and we upgrade on over to Whisperer completely.
Both of the 1-drops above are fine options for the deck. Firebreathing (or Lightning Breathing in this case) works very well with the mana production from Nykthos, although Firedrinker Satyr is probably the better choice over Berserker.
Commune with Lava is very interesting in that red actually gets access to some major card advantage here. Casting this for 5 total mana on an opponent’s end step is almost certainly enough to get your value back and the possibilities expand from there. Commune actually might be reason enough to explore a more controlling red devotion deck as I think the aggressive versions will prefer something like Crater’s Claws most of the time.
Mono-Green Devotion is the only devotion deck that has really stuck around both in form and function after RTR. Part of this is because of the power of cards like Courser of Kruphix, which effortlessly add to your devotion, but also the likes of Voyaging Satyr, which gets pretty filthy in combination with Nykthos. Most recently, green devotion has turned to adding some white to its list and the end result is a deck that produces a lot of mana, a lot of life, and a lot of permanents very quickly. On top of that, of all of the colors in Dragons of Tarkir, green pulls in the most new toys for its devotion decks!
Obviously some of these are stronger than others, but having access to more color-dense options is awesome. Deathmist Raptor alone shakes things up, as now I want to run Whisperwood Elemental and Rattleclaw Mystic in all of these decks.
Avatar of the Resolute offers the deck a new direction. Normally, those cheap slots are reserved for mana creatures in mono-green devotion. But recently, Fleecemane Lion has shown that aggressive 2-drops work pretty well here too. Avatar of the Resolute makes for another aggressive 2-drop that scales into the late game but more importantly, works extremely well with Nykthos, which the Lion does not. With Lion, Polukranos, maybe Deathmist Raptor, and Genesis Hydra in the deck, enough +1/+1 counters exist that this could be a real threat, so expect some big variations in Mono-Green Devotion over the next month or so.
Collected Company is one of those rare nonpermanents that might get a nod just because of how strong it can be in this archetype. All of the foundational cards for mono-green devotion tend to be cheap creatures. From Elvish Mystic and Sylvan Caryatid to Courser of Kruphix and now maybe even Shaman of Forgotten Ways, the card allows you to recover from a sweeper at instant speed, which is absolutely huge. Even if it only ends up being in the sideboard, Collected Company might be the most important card this archetype picks up.
Sheltered Aerie is another very strong card that gives Voyaging Satyr even more utility in the list. With a Sheltered Aerie, you can generate 9 mana on turn four without Nykthos which is pretty crazy. I would not expect any aggressive takes on mono-green to care, but I like that even more tools for customization exist.
Here is a potential list using the more aggressive approach:
The consistency and late-game power of green/white is probably better than this direction, but this looks quite viable at least. Nykthos is on the verge of rotation, so be sure to have your fun while you still can!
[Editor’s Note: The Mono-Red Devotion list originally contained Islands instead of Mountains.]