There are a ton of new cards to be considered from Magic 2015, and I think only time will tell for sure which end up being home runs and which never see the light of day. I’ve written infinite articles on Mono-Black Devotion and I’ve probably played it in more premier level events than any other person alive. So who better than me to look at the new options under a microscope and render judgement?
Let’s start off with a card that’s basically a lock to see play: Liliana Vess. Liliana Vess isn’t an overpowered or broken Magic card but it is solid as a rock. It won’t be very good against any kind of Mono-Red aggro decks but if you can drop it down on an empty board it’s going to be excellent in any matchup. It will be at its best in the mirror match, against Sphinx’s Revelation decks, and Burn.
I could be stretching things a bit saying it will be a good card against Burn but traditionally if you can offset their game plan even a little bit then the games are much closer. I imagine Liliana will never die when you play it against Burn so it can either go to work trying to shred apart their hand or you can use the -2 ability to tutor up a Gray Merchant of Asphodel, which has the added bonus of counting Liliana’s two black mana symbols.
Liliana will definitely be played in Standard, but that comes with the caveat that it will never be played in large numbers. It would be extremely unlikely to see someone ever play four copies in their 75 and I feel it will likely be a one-of in the maindeck and possibly one more in the sideboard. It’s a unique, powerful card, but it costs five mana and doesn’t affect the board the turn it comes into play so you can’t go too crazy with it. Playing too many cards like this puts you seriously at risk of having too few cards that interact with creatures in the early game.
Soul of Innistrad
Soul of Innistrad seems to me like a card that has some small amount of potential but will ultimately not be competitive. It’s nice because it’s a giant creature that you don’t really “care” about losing because you can get value anyway.
But, let this serve as a public service announcement if there is anyone who still feels this way: the Souls of M15 are NOTHING like the Titans. There is an enormous difference between a Titan which gives you an immediate impact when it comes into play, and something like a Soul which doesn’t do anything, dies, and then on the following turn you have to invest more mana to get a smaller, weaker effect.
Just compare the effects of Grave Titan to that of Soul of Zendikar. If they both go uncontested the Grave Titan kills at a much faster rate, and if they just die the turn they come out the Grave Titan at least gave you two 2/2s for free which can attack on the next turn, as opposed to Soul of Zendikar which costs you an additional five mana for a 3/3 Beast. Now the Souls have the distinct advantage of being fine cards when countered (except by Dissipate) and if you mill them from your library into your graveyard you can do sweet things with them, but in general I don’t think any of the Souls will see play in Standard.
Stain the Mind
Stain the Mind is a very intriguing card. It’s unique in a way that we haven’t seen for a very long time. Versions of Black Devotion that splash red have almost always had at least one copy of Slaughter Games in the sideboard and now we have access to a version of the card that can be played in any flavor of black. I like this card a bit more, because convoke is more relevant than you’d think. A casting cost of 5 with convoke is extremely similar to one of 4 but multiple colors.
I could easily see myself having zero, one, or two Stain the Mind in future sideboards of my own builds of Black Devotion. It’s hard to say for sure exactly how good this card will be, but if the future metagame has a decent amount of Sphinx’s Revelation or Mono-Green Devotion I would want access to this card.
Its applications against UW control are obvious, but my theory is that it will be great against Green Devotion as well. As it stands, my deck’s plan A is amazing against Green Devotion, except for their planeswalkers, most notably Garruk, Caller of Beasts and now Nissa, Worldwaker. I usually bring in my Pithing Needle and save my Thoughtseizes for their planeswalkers. Just having a ton of cheap removal alongside Lifebane Zombie means I rarely lose to their creatures but if they can drain my resources and stick a planeswalker then I likely lose. This way I can easily curve Bile Blight into Lifebane Zombie into Stain the Mind and name whatever the final card in their hand is. Seems awfully convenient to me.
Ulcerate looks excellent on paper, but I anticipate that it will not be widely played. The thing that upsets me about Ulcerate is that it’s clearly a good card and Black Devotion is always in the market for cheap spot removal. It even kills some of the most problematic cards like Nightveil Specter, Master of Waves, and Pack Rat. Also it looks great, because black doesn’t have very many cards that cost 1 mana. Unfortunately, at a cost of 3 life it just isn’t good against fast creature decks like Mono-Red aggro and Burn. It’s unacceptable to put a card in your deck for aggressive matchups and have it just be unplayable in many of them.
I like to ensure that my deck functions against Burn, no matter how much I lose in other matchups. At least if you have something like Doom Blade in your deck it can kill Young Pyromancer or slow down a Chandra’s Phoenix, and just slowing down the Phoenix is essential to any game plan that involves Desecration Demon—the best card in the matchup. I have also noticed that many Burn decks sideboard in Firedrinker Satyr against me, I always have almost all my creature removal in my deck after sideboard against Burn for these reasons. With Thoughtseize and Underworld Connections in the picture, adding Ulcerate is one step too far, you have to the draw the line somewhere and this seems like a good place to start.
Sign in Blood
Sign in Blood is another card that is extremely difficult to evaluate. How does it compare to Read the Bones and Underworld Connections? Can you play all of them? None of them? My first instinct is to say that Sign in Blood is probably not worth playing unless you’re Mono-Black with very few Temples, like lists I have played in the past. In addition to that, the two mana slot is always a tough one to fill. Black Devotion doesn’t have any good one-mana cards, so consider that in half the games you’ll be on the draw and that means if you don’t affect the board on the second turn of the game you’re in big trouble against fast decks. I love Black Devotion’s ability to come back from behind, but that starts on turn two—using all your Devour Fleshes to stop the problem before it gets out of hand. Hero’s Downfall is a terrible answer to Rakdos Cackler but if you can kill the Cackler with a two-mana kill spells then Hero’s Downfall is much more acceptable on an Ash Zealot or whatever else is moving up the curve. It’s also important to note that Sign in Blood is atrocious in games where you don’t play a spell on turn one and you’re on the draw, forcing you to discard to hand size.
All that said, I have played Read the Bones in my sideboard before and have loved it in the mirror and against control—I always have so many Duress effects that it’s good to have something that smooths out my draw. In these matchups I feel Read the Bones is way better than Sign in Blood because the difference in mana is so small and the difference in effect is so large. Read the Bones is much closer to “draw 3 cards” than it is to “draw 2 cards.”
Phyrexian Revoker is a sweet new option. I have played Pithing Needle before and have excellent experiences with it. The issue I have with Phyrexian Revoker vs. Pithing Needle is that part of the value of Pithing Needle is that it’s here forever while Phyrexian Revoker is much more fragile. I dislike that if I Pithing Needle an Elspeth that they both sit in play until my opponent casts a Supreme Verdict and just activates the Elspeth right away. On top of that, Black Devotion doesn’t really struggle for good ways to close out the game, it has great threats and Mutavault already. One of the matchups I like Pithing Needle the most in is against Jund Monsters because they always seem to run exactly 4 Domri Rade and 3 Xenagos—that’s a ton of targets. Those kind of decks almost always have Dreadbore or other ways to destroy a creature, even Polukranos can embarrass the Revoker. That said there may be some merit to it since removal like Abrupt Decay and Putrefy can destroy Pithing Needle all the same.
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Lastly I want to talk about Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. As long as Urborg has been legal in a format, it has been both played in black decks and incredibly powerful, this will not change now. The only downsides I can see are that it’s legendary, and that once it’s in play it will give your opponent access to black mana. These downsides are minimal and are greatly outweighed by the upsides like allowing your Mutavault to tap for black mana, allowing painlands like Llanowar Wastes or Caves of Koilos to make black mana without also costing you 1 life, and it can also, in corner-case situations, let you tap an Evolving Wilds for black mana, entirely negating its drawback. Nightveil Specter is a ridiculously powerful card and its main drawback is that it’s difficult to cast, this will no longer be an issue as long as you can draw Urborg—it doesn’t matter how many Mutavaults or Forests you’ve drawn in your Bg Devotion deck, you can play all the spells you want. Remember that additional Urborgs aren’t completely dead as long as you have Pack Rat in your deck to discard them to.
I look forward to testing out all these cards in my own build of Mono-Black Devotion and seeing where my first impressions were wrong or spot on. Do you disagree? Was there anything I missed? Let me know!
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