Owen’s a Win – Black Devotion Redux

I must admit that before a week ago, I hadn’t played Standard in quite some time and seeing all the results from Grand Prix, I wasn’t quite sure if Mono-Black Devotion was still what it used to be. I built the red version from Buenos Aires with Slaughter Games in the sideboard and tried it out, I loved the fact that I could play with Dreadbore to help deal with Domri Rade and Xenagos, the Reveler. In the end I quickly I decided that I didn’t like the worse mana base, the combination of shocklands you don’t want in aggressive matchups, and the inconsistency of not having enough red sources. This idea is still on the table, I’m willing to revisit it later, but for now I really dislike splashing in Black Devotion. Here is my current list.

I’m most unsure whether I should be playing an Ultimate Price or a Swamp. At the last GP, the two black devotion decks that made Top 8 both had 25 lands, a departure from my previous standby 26 lands and they each had an additional two-mana removal spell. I decided to adopt this for a number of reasons, primarily that it could just be better and I could have been wrong all this time to play 26 lands. I highly doubt it, but it’s possible I was just wrong this whole time, because being wrong by 1 card isn’t a big deal and won’t often affect your results—especially when that card is a land, it’s even harder to observe a negative impact. Also Ultimate Price has gained a ton of value lately. There are many Polukranoses, Stormbreath Dragons, and Desecration Demons running around and it’s good to have a rock solid answer for those in the main deck that isn’t Hero’s Downfall.

I made the straight swap from Nightveil Specter to Lifebane Zombie, which I’ve been asked about very frequently. It always seemed reasonable to me, I just wasn’t ready yet. After all, at Pro Tour Theros when Mono-Black Devotion with Pack Rats was unleashed, that player had Lifebane Zombie in his main deck. I have always felt like this deck was the single best Lifebane Zombie deck in the format despite only ever playing it in my sideboard, I loved having access to it and for as long as I have played the deck I never dropped below three in my sideboard. It’s less a card that depends on the metagame and more an extension of my main deck.


When Lifebane Zombie does what you want it to do it is totally ridiculous and it’s a happy coincidence that it also single handedly deals with some of the most problematic cards for this deck. Simply having Lifebane Zombie and Thoughtseize in your deck means you lose to Blood Baron of Vizkopa infinitely less often than you would otherwise. It also makes me quite happy to be playing with Lifebane Zombie when a huge portion of the field has decided to play with four copies of Polukranos—not that they are wrong, but having Lifebane Zombie here makes me feel I have a superior strategy. Having a 3/1 intimidate is already great against a deck with so many planeswalkers and the double devotion he grants coupled with the fact that he’s basically unblockable contribute wonderfully to my deck’s plan A: use Gray Merchant of Asphodel to kill the opponent.


One could argue that the decks that play Polukranos also play Elvish Mystic and Sylvan Caryatid so he can sometimes come down before the Lifebane Zombie does, and you would be right, but I have found that with Bile Blight and Devour Flesh for the mana creatures as well as Thoughtseize, the games are quite intricate.

Bile Blight is a card that I once heralded as the solution to all of Mono-Black’s problems, and in hindsight I may have been a little off. I was not wrong that this card would both improve the Mono-Black archetype and eventually become a maindeck staple but I did overstate things. The more I play with Bile Blight the less I like it. I viewed it as a card that was much better than Pharika’s Cure and would have applications in tons of matchups, while I still dislike Pharika’s Cure and have found Bile Blight to come with some drawbacks.

Against Jund Monsters, a deck I expect to be both popular and successful moving forward, they have almost no good targets for a Bile Blight. It can kill all the Satyr tokens a Xenagos, the Reveler can produce, but this isn’t a winning recipe, leaving the planeswalker behind to fight on. It can kill Elvish Mystic which is fine of course, but won’t come up frequently and will only sometimes be a high power play. It’s irritating that you have a card that costs two mana and kills a creature and yet you play against a deck with 30 creatures and want to sideboard it out. It can’t kill Courser of Kruphix or any of the larger mythic monsters.

I choose to continue playing with Bile Blight for a few reasons but the largest by far is giving myself some play against Pack Rat. I tried playing on Magic Online for a short period of time with zero Bile Blight in my deck list and almost immediately I ran into a player who cast Pack Rat on turn five to make a token and run away with the game. It made me feel silly since that’s the entire purpose of the card and I just didn’t have it. When Bile Blight was printed one of the main reasons I was so excited about it was because it would be insane against Mono-Blue Devotion, which remains true, but for some odd reason nobody plays that deck anymore. I couldn’t explain why, but that deck just fell off the face of the map almost overnight. It’s played still in small numbers, but not like it was before.

I still play 4 Devour Flesh as my primary source of removal. It’s just the single most reliable card, since any other option has very real and obvious drawbacks, at least when Devour Flesh is bad it can still just be cast to remove a creature from the board instead of something like a Doom Blade which can sit in your hand in the mirror and do absolutely nothing. One thing I like about Devour Flesh is that it plays extremely well with Desecration Demon in many ways. First, if your opponent is in the situation where he is sacrificing creatures to tap the Demon (which comes up often) a Devour Flesh can be used to deal with a creature that they would be using to tap the Demon at some point anyways. It doesn’t even matter what their worst creature is in this instance since it still has value and can be sacrificed to the Demon all the same. I also like the interaction of being able to use Devour Flesh on myself, it may sound silly but it comes up much more often than you would think and it’s easy for a Desecration Demon to have two creatures get sacrificed to it and then you Devour Flesh yourself to gain 8 life in a pinch and you don’t even lose card parity. This shouldn’t be a part of your strategy when sideboarding or keeping your opening hand but it’s an important thing to keep in mind.

My sideboard is as clean and crisp as it has ever been. 4 Doom Blade. Just look at them, they’re beautiful. These are of course for the Jund Monsters deck, the most important creatures by far, as Polukranos, Stormbreath Dragon, and Courser of Kruphix and Doom Blade is as good an answer as you’re going to get. In fact, I have noticed a steep increase in my win percentage when I draw multiple Doom Blades against Jund Monsters. Doom Blade is the single best removal spell you can play against this deck and removal is exactly what you need and Doom Blade is no slouch in matchups like Burn, White Weenie, and Mono-Blue Devotion.

I also have added two Pithing Needle to my sideboard and have been satisfied with them. Jund Monsters plays four copies of Domri Rade and three copies of Xenagos, the Reveler which can be problematic threats to handle without the luxury of drawing Hero’s Downfall in multiples. Pithing Needle not only provides a cheap, unique way to handle planeswalker,  which can be a deck’s best strategy against Mono-Black, but it also works incredibly well with Thoughtseize. You do feel a little blown out when they play a Xenagos and make a Satyr and your best response is to Pithing Needle or Hero’s Downfall it, you just traded one card for one card and they still got a 2/2 haste out of the deal. That’s not how you win at Magic in the long run. With Thoughtseize you can see which planeswalkers they have and Pithing Needle those, it works out marvelously. I also very much like Pithing Needle against the Sphinx’s Revelation decks, since 3 Elspeth’s is the new trend. Using Duress on someone’s Detention Sphere and then casting Pithing Needle on the Jace in their hand is a bit of a blowout.

4 Duress in my sideboard is a reaction to the amount of burn decks being played on Magic Online. I love Duress against the Sphinx’s Revelation decks as well and I am happy to play four, but with Burn also now a part of the metagame, four Duress sideboard is mandatory.

I’ve gone back to 3 Erebos, God of the Dead, like I have done in the past. This has proven to be one of the only things you can do in Black Devotion to improve the Revelation and mirror matches. Erebos is incredibly powerful against both of these decks and gains value after sideboard. Underworld Connections is the best card in your deck in both matchups and Erebos acts as additional copies. I could see a world in which I chose to play 2 Erebos, God of the Dead and 1 Read the Bones as a way to smooth out my mana curve and reduce my chances of drawing two copies of Erebos, which can suck but often in these matchups Erebos can be removed by a Thoughtseize or Detention Sphere so it isn’t entirely clear that drawing two copies is a bad thing.

Lastly there is quite a lot of Burn being played on Magic Online and that matchup is razor-close every time. I feel like my deck should have the advantage with creature removal, maindeck Gray Merchant of Asphodel, and four Duress sideboard, but if you are concerned with the matchup and are willing to make a radical change to shore it up then I suggest cutting the 4 Temple of Deceit for 4 Swamp and jamming 2 or 3 Staff of the Death Magus in your sideboard. I don’t think Burn can ever beat that card.

Owen Turtenwald
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