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Devotion after Khans of Tarkir

Khans of Tarkir, being a multicolor-themed set, offers very little to devotion strategies. In a way, that’s the point.

There’s a tidbit of ancestral knowledge in the Magic community that says in a multicolor format, you can get a huge advantage by building a streamlined, consistent deck. When everyone is playing three colors, you should play two colors; when everyone is playing two colors, you should go mono-color.

Traditionally, this theory is about being aggressive and punishing opponents who may stumble on their mana. However, it need not be restricted to just aggro decks. In a format as powerful as today’s standard, if you’re developing your board while your opponents are struggling to get on their feet, the game is as good as won. What’s more, all of the aggro decks that your opponents build will be built to beat players whose lands come into play tapped, or deal them massive amounts of damage. If you refuse to play into their hands, then you’ll be the toughest opponent they’re likely to face.

Beyond issues of mana base, Khans of Tarkir‘s most powerful cards—things like Savage Knuckleblade and Siege Rhino—seem to guide us towards midrange creature decks. Supreme Verdict and Sphinx’s Revelation are gone and there’s no clear replacement in sight. Because of their raw power and explosiveness, devotion decks tend to dominate opposing creature decks, and might be at their absolute best in Khans of Tarkir Standard.

New Weapons

Ironically, I think back to the Theros Block Constructed Pro Tour in Atlanta, and realize that devotion strategies did not actually perform well. (To the best of my knowledge, no devotion decks were in Top 8 contention by the last couple of rounds). However, Block Constructed was a narrow format where devotion decks couldn’t quite get to the critical mass of playable cards that they needed. Additionally, U/W Heroic and controlling black removal decks—the two extremes of the format—both posed unique problems that devotion decks were ill equipped to handle.

So with a fresh metagame, presumably dominated by midrange creature decks, as well as a few well-placed tools not only from Khans of Tarkir but also M15, I believe that devotion decks have a great chance to shine.

One of the foremost things Standard offered which Block did not is excellent mana fixing. Often, devotion decks work best when they’re devoted to one color with a small splash for a few important role players—think Chained to the Rocks in Red Devotion or Xenagos, the Reveler in Green Devotion. Beyond that, let’s examine the colors one at a time.

White Devotion

New weapons:

White devotion has the best high-end options of the five colors. Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, Soul of Theros, Wingmate Roc, and Dictate of Heliod are great rewards for being devoted to white. The tricky part is finding early drops capable of building your devotion.

Soldier of the Pantheon is a shoo-in. He’s efficient, good on both offense and defense, and looks to brickwall a lot of Khan’s flagship cards like Savage Knuckleblade.

In terms of two-drops, though, the only double-white options are Phalanx Leader and Vanguard of Brimaz. These cards are quite weak if you can’t trigger heroic, but powerful if you can. Traditionally, devotion decks should be comprised of virtually 100% permanents, so trying to include instants and sorceries to trigger heroic might be a fool’s errand. However, if you can succeed in walking that delicate line, the rewards might be great indeed.

Consider this hybrid devotion/tokens deck based on something I tested for the Theros Block Pro Tour:

While featuring some elements of a heroic/white weenie deck, this deck is actually aiming to set up a winning board state in the mid- and late-game. The red splash is for Purphoros, God of the Forge which, while it cannot turn into a creature in this deck, offers two abilities which are both deadly when swarms of tokens become involved.

Other options include Spear of Heliod and Fabled Hero as cards to fuel devotion; Iroas, God of Victory, Dictate of Heliod, and Soul of Theros as ways to take advantage of it, Coordinated Assault and Gods Willing as ways to trigger heroic, and Suspension Field and Banishing Light as reactive cards.

Blue Devotion

New weapons:

Without a doubt, blue is the devotion archetype that suffers the most from the format’s rotation. It loses its best early creatures and Mutavault, and will need to evolve in order to survive.

Perhaps the way to go is to focus less on the devotion aspect, and more on the evasive weenie elements that the color offers. Hall of Triumph in combination with Master of Waves remains one of the most powerful things you can do in the first four turns of the game.

Or maybe the deck needs to splash into a different color, like black for Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver and Murderous Cut (you could easily play four each of Polluted Delta and Flooded Strand). Or…

Any way you slice it, you aren’t going to be able to cobble together the amount of devotion to blue that you could in old Standard—not in the early turns of the game anyway. Nonetheless, building a deck to make use of Master of Waves means you have access to one of the single best cards in the format, and no one but you can play with it.

Black Devotion

New weapons:

Pack Rat and Underworld Connections will be hard to replace, but black devotion also gained a healthy suite of new options between Khans of Tarkir and M15. Here’s a controlling option:

Discard spells, removal spells, and card drawing spells are fine ways to spend your early turns, but this deck’s lack of cheap creatures puts a cap on how good its best draws can be. It lacks the speed and explosiveness of the other devotion decks.

Where we’ve lost Underworld Connections, though, we’ve gained dozens of premium aggressive creatures for a mono-black aggro deck.

Mono-black has access to great removal and card advantage options. It can also play twelve 2-power one-drops and enough support cards to make them deadly. The scariest thing about mono-black is the wide range of possibilities for how to build it. These two decks, and anything in between them, could be a great option for Khans Standard.

Red Devotion

New weapons:

Red devotion has a similar, though less extreme, problem as white devotion. Most of red’s appealing devotion cards cost three, four, or five mana. Again, the challenge is finding cheap creatures to bridge the gap.

Eidolon of the Great Revel is a no-brainer, being both the only double-red 2-drop available and being an excellent card in its own right. Generator Servant is a fine creature to put on the table on turn two, and makes it easy to set up an explosive turn down the road. It also makes your expensive bombs more accessible in games where you don’t draw Nykthos, or can’t get enough devotion to make it powerful. Plus, the first time you play a turn 3 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker as a response to your opponent’s turn 3 Courser of Kruphix, you’re going to feel very warm inside.

Green Devotion

New weapons:

At long last, we’ve come to my personal favorite devotion strategy: green devotion. Green devotion stands to lose very little in the Standard rotation, which makes it a very appealing strategy in Khans Standard coming out of the gates.

Green devotion was not successful in Theros Block Constructed in large part because of the absence of Elvish Mystic. Beyond that, M15 and Khans of Tarkir offer Genesis Hydra and Chord of Calling as powerful and versatile late-game engines, as well a variety of excellent planeswalkers to accelerate into play.

Here’s a direct port of the G(r) Genesis Hydra Devotion deck that I played in old Standard:

This deck will lose Stomping Ground (which has a direct replacement in Wooded Foothills), Domri Rade, and Garruk, Caller of Beasts. Between needing two Mountains to support Wooded Foothills and losing one of its cheap plays in Domri Rade, I feel that the deck can now benefit from a 24th land to help it run a little more smoothly.

Garruk, Caller of Beasts, although I only played it as a one-of, is actually a challenging card to replace. If you ever drew your Garruk (or found it with Genesis Hydra), it meant that you could never flood out or run out of gas—you were set for the rest of the game. There’s no single card post-rotation that has the same effect. In an attempt to compensate, I’ve loaded up on a high concentration of powerful planeswalkers, but regardless, Garruk will be sorely missed.

As an alternative, you could try building around the Eidolon of Blossoms card-drawing engine:

This deck is a little slower to get moving, but even more powerful when it does. It also has the very real benefit that it can never flood out or run out of gas if an Eidolon of Blossoms is allowed to survive.

So there you have seven different options for how to sidestep the three-color mana bases that everyone else will be drawn into. Some of these ideas are tried and true, and a few are more experimental. Regardless, there’s tons of flexibility in all of these decks, so feel free to take what you like and leave what you don’t.

I don’t know exactly what Khans of Tarkir Standard will look like, but I do know that there’s a ton of value in having smooth mana that doesn’t slow you down or cause you to take too much damage. I also know that Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx is one heck of a card.

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