Owen’s a Win – Examining Mono-Black Devotion

Mono-Black Devotion has always been one of my favorite decks in Standard and although I’ve been exploring my options, like the Jund deck I wrote about last week, Mono-Black Devotion will always have a soft spot in my heart and be a serious contender for me going into any major tournament. This week I wanted to go down one-by-one and look at the deck under a sharper lens.


This is really the glue that holds the deck together and I can’t imagine playing the deck without it.

When Thoughtseize is good: Always

When Thoughtseize is bad: Against Burn

I’ve heard people argue that Thoughtseize is a fine card after sideboard against Burn and I understand the logic but I feel strongly that that is incorrect. Having Thoughtseize in your deck after sideboard against burn will simply lead to a lower win percentage.

Imagine you cast a Thoughtseize and you take a Boros Charm from your opponents hand, that’s a winning play right? Wrong. You payed a black mana and discarded a card to gain TWO life, additionally your opponent didn’t have to spend the mana on the Boros Charm. Instead he got half the cards benefit and traded for one of your cards.

What Thoughtseize can do is make the opponent discard a card like Chained to the Rocksa very good use of Thoughtseize, but it will not always work out in this way and the loss of two life may still end up being too costly in a longer game. Additionally I like Duress against them after sideboard and having too many discard spells can mean not enough action and really poor topdecks in the midgame.

Pack Rat

When Pack Rat burst onto the scene, he was the reason to play Mono-Black Devotion, and since then he has lost a bit of his power, but I still enjoy my time with Patrick Rattigan.

When Pack Rat is good: Thoughtseize into Pack Rat on the play is still a 1-2 punch that can beat any deck in the format. Pack Rat is also very powerful after sideboard when other decks have more removal, and as a turn-5 play can let you trade lands for removal spells.

When Pack Rat is bad: On the draw against deck’s with a strong, proactive game plan. Pack Rat is also weak to both Bile Blight and Detention Sphere.

Pack Rat is a hard card to evaluate because it will often win the game singlehandedly or be a useless card when you’re behind. I used to sideboard out two Pack Rat on the draw against Mono-Blue Devotion because if they get a quick Thassa or Nightveil Specter, spending three mana to make a 2/2 creature isn’t going to get you out of that mess. Pack Rat used to be the end-all be-all in the mirror match, but now with Bile Blight being commonly played you need to be more careful, it’s still greatbut with the existence of a solid answer to this threat you want to find a balance of knowing when to go all-in and when to find alternative routes to victory.

Nightveil Specter

At Grand Prix Albuquerque the Top 8 deck lists contained 28 copies of Nightveil Specter. That’s a pretty rare occurrence for Constructed Magic. During that period, Nightveil Specter was likely the best card in Standard and although things have changed a bit, it’s good to remember just how powerful that card really is.

When Nightveil Specter is good: This card is awesome in the mirror match, fast aggro, and burn. A 2/3 blocker for 3 is very useful against any fast aggro decks and being a great source of devotion helps against burn as well, powering out huge Gray Merchants. It’s also a must-kill-on-sight threat in the mirror since it can get out of hand quickly.

When Nightveil Specter is bad: I’ve found Nightveil Specter to be quite weak against Jund Monsters since it matches up very poorly against many of their 4/4 and 5/5 creatures and its impact on the game it low. It doesn’t hit particularly hard and it’s very difficult to cast spells from their deck.

I will say, to Nightveil Specter’s credit, it can be very good even against Jund Monsters. Occasionally games will come up where my opponent has no cards in hand but controls a Courser of Kruphix, in these situations Nightveil Specter can help mitigate my opponent’s ability to topdeck by not attacking when they have a bad card on top of their library and milling their top card before they topdeck a card that will change the game. This usually ends in them just getting lucky and hitting 2 good cards in a row but any card in Magic that makes me feel like I have control over what happens makes me feel good.

Hero’s Downfall

I’ve played this deck many times and I have yet to register a build of the deck that doesn’t run four copies of Hero’s Downfall.

When Hero’s Downfall is good: Hero’s Downfall is at its absolute best when it destroys a permanent that another removal spell could not destroy. If you kill a Polukranos or a Stormbreath Dragon that would not have been killed by Bile Blight then it’s a great spell, otherwise, obviously it would be replaceable.

When Hero’s Downfall is bad: Hero’s Downfall is a bad card when your opponent controls Blood Baron of Vizkopa or they play a creature that is very good early and weaker late, like an Elvish Mystic. If your opponent is on the play and has Elvish Mystic into Domri Rade that +1s and reveals a Polukranos you’re pretty dead. Not many removal spells could get you out of this jam, but if you somehow had a Wring Flesh, then you could have killed that Elvish Mystic before the whole game went haywire. I’m not advocating that you put Wring Flesh in your deck but I am saying that Hero’s Downfall is not without its hangups and costing three mana means it won’t do anything until turn 3, which is a concern. I have also had a frustrating time holding multiple copies of Hero’s Downfall as I lose to Underworld Connections and Blood Baron of Vizkopa in the psuedo-mirror, this removal spell can’t quite remove everything.

Devour Flesh

I started out with only a few copies of Devour Flesh in my deck and since then I’ve ramped it up to the point where I wouldn’t play the deck without 4 in my 75.

When Devour Flesh is good: Devour Flesh is very good against Blood Baron of Vizkopa, Sylvan Caryatid, and Fiendslayer Paladin. In my experience the general strategy to beat Mono-Black Devotion is to play a bunch of Blood Baron in your deck and everything will work out. This works some of the time, I can’t argue that. It’s a good card, but when you know my deck has 4 Thoughtseize, 4 Devour Flesh, and 4 Lifebane Zombie you know that it’s a liability to have in your opening hand and unlikely to matter when cast on turn five, but it is a very good topdeck when both players have no hand.

In these cases you want to find a balance when you have a good number in your deck so you can topdeck it, but not too many because it’s horrible to have in your hand. Devour Flesh is also nice because it’s a no-questions-asked removal spell that you can use your mana on at any point, can be cast on yourself to gain life in a pinch, and plays well with Desecration Demon. At certain points in the game it doesn’t matter what your opponent’s creatures are when they become Demon food, if you make them sacrifice more bad creatures with Devour Flesh then eventually they’re forcing to sacrifice creatures that matter.

When Devour Flesh is bad: Devour Flesh is really terrible to draw game 1 against any Sphinx’s Revelation decks. This is pretty well known but it’s worth mentioning as it’s a real downside to having too many in your main deck. I also dislike Devour Flesh when my opponent has a wide variety of threats in play and can sacrifice weak, unimportant creatures. In the mirror, you always want to try to cast Nightveil Specter or Desecration Demon with 1 mana available so that you may activate your Mutavault in response to a Devour Flesh and sacrifice that instead of your better creature.

As long as people try to get tricky and win with creatures that have Hexproof or protection from black, I will be packing Devour Flesh, that said I can imagine a world in which Ultimate Price is better.

Gray Merchant of Asphodel

Gray Merchant of Asphodel has always been an all-star draft common and another card I do not cut from Mono-Black Devotion. This card is just so absurdly broken and your only out to win the game in many situations.

When Gray Merchant of Asphodel is good: This card is at its best against Burn, acting as a new-age Thragtusk. If you can get it down and gain 2 to 6 life it’s easy for that to be enough to swing the game in your direction. I have also written before that Gray Merchant of Asphodel compares favorably to Sorin’s Vengeance. Imagine you play a Gray Merchant for a devotion of 6, this means that you paid 3BB for a 2/4 that also gave you TWELVE points of life. That’s just a broken card.

When Gray Merchant of Asphodel is bad: This card just plain stinks when you draw two early or you have them in your opening hand. It doesn’t affect the board in a meaningful way and you need to have other things going on to make it better. If you play against a control deck or the mirror and things aren’t going very well then it’s rare that Gray Merchant of Asphodel will help you recover from that since if they kill or neutralize all your permanents it’s a five-mana Highway Robber, that’s an embarassing Constructed card.

Hopefully with this information you can better understand the deck and how to sideboard in other matchups with it. I know this is how I think when I play matchups with the deck and it has helped me immensely to gain a better understanding of each card and the deck on the whole.

Owen Turtenwald
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