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Randomly Manipulating Cardboard – Searching For Caw Blade

It’s Christmastime. Yay Christmas! You’re in a Marshalls with your girlfriend (domestic partner, according to New York State!), and she’s looking for Christmas gifts for her family. Just lookin’ around in a store. You do not understand this—the idea of physically transporting yourself from place to place in order to buy things is insane. The internet was invented specifically to stop this from happening. None of this is making any sense. You have seen this woman use the internet before, and yet, you are here, in this Marshalls. The two of you are the youngest people in the building by about 20 years, and you are waiting to die along with the rest of them. You round a corner, and a woman who refuses to make eye-contact warns you that there’s broken glass on the ground but that she’s “going to go get someone,” so do not roll around on the ground or do whatever it is you were going to do because, hey, there’s some broken glass on the ground. A death march plays over the speakers to the tune of White Christmas. Fresh lake effect snow—we’re talking huge flakes—falls outside in a soft, steady rhythm, because only five hours of daylight is still too many to keep you from breaking. At some point, your mind inevitably starts to wander.

* * *

More and more, it feels like Magic is in a good spot, especially in Standard. People can complain about the linear nature of the devotion mechanic, or the homogenizing effect that a play set of [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd]s can have on a match, but the fact remains that good players keep winning, and the Top 25 players list has remained relatively stable. Huey Jenson literally cannot stop winning. It’s a good time to be a Magician.

With Theros Limited season in the rear-view mirror and Standard PTQ season upon us, it’s time to figure out what deck we’re going to grind for three months. If Caw Blade taught us anything, it’s that being multi-dimensional and flexible in your deck choice is overrated, and that you should instead just play one deck over and over again until you get really good with it. Ideally, it’ll have blue cards in it.

The drawback to this method of deck selection is that the format really needs to have a “best deck” for it to work, and a few months in, there’s been no single deck to really take that title and run with it. Mono-Blue Devotion won Pro Tour Theros, and since then, Standard GPs have been won by B/W Control, Mono-Blue Devotion, a blisteringly-fast Rakdos deck, and Mono-Black Devotion, the latter of which has taken down two Grand Prix. It’s worth noting that all three United States Grand Prix were won by a deck sporting four maindeck [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd].

Last weekend’s SCG Invitational featured a mix of old, new, and new-ish Standard decks. Mono-Black Devotion, Mono-Blue Devotion, Esper, U/W Control, G/W Aggro, and R/w Devotion were all present. I’ll spare you the suspense—the deck with four maindeck Thoughtseizes, piloted by genius-person Max Brown, won the tournament. If you’re looking for a deck to grind, any flavor of the black devotion deck is a fine choice going forward. It’s time-tested and trustworthy, like that dog you saved from a burning building that you sometimes (but not often!) forget to feed. It’s a good kind of deck to know you’ve got on the back burner while you explore other options—like the breakout Standard deck of the tournament.

Thea Steele – 5th place

[deck]Main Deck
2 Hammer of Purphoros
2 Purphoros, God of the Forge
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
4 Fanatic of Mogis
4 Temple of Triumph
3 Chained to the Rocks
4 Stormbreath Dragon
1 Chandra, Pyromaster
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Boros Reckoner
1 Boros Guildgate
3 Mizzium Mortars
4 Frostburn Weird
4 Ash Zealot
4 Sacred Foundry
12 Mountain
Sideboard
3 Anger of the Gods
1 Chained to the Rocks
2 Wear and Tear
3 Warleader’s Helix
4 Boros Charm
2 Assemble the Legion[/deck]

Coming into last weekend, R/w Devotion was pretty under-the radar, as far as Standard contenders go. Now that the deck put two people in Top 8 with a combined record of 15-1 in Standard, it’s safe to say that the secret’s out.

At first glance, the deck seems a little strange. It doesn’t really have a mana curve as much as a mana valley that depresses at the three spot. A turn two [ccProd]Burning-Tree Emissary[/ccProd] will only help you play more Burning-Tree Emissaries. There is a [ccProd]Boros Guildgate[/ccProd] present. All told, the deck basically looks like a bad midrange deck. Luckily, that’s not what it is.

R/w Devotion actually plays a lot like a combo deck. You “go off,” aided by [ccProd]Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx[/ccProd], to make a big [ccProd]Fanatic of Mogis[/ccProd], with [ccProd]Stormbreath Dragon[/ccProd] backup if necessary. The Burning-Tree Emissaries are a virtual 3-drop to be used in conjunction with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx to make a 4-drop on turn three, or even to squeeze extra value out of your [ccProd]Fanatic of Mogis[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Hammer of Purphoros[/ccProd]. Thanks to the combo aspect of this deck, it plays much differently than a regular creature deck would: trading off creatures is bad—you need them to hit devotion. Think of [ccProd]Mizzium Mortar[/ccProd]s primarily in terms of its overload mode, and don’t pull the trigger on the 2-mana version unless you really, really have to.

I talked to Thea a bit after her finish, mostly about my struggles against the [ccProd]Supreme Verdict[/ccProd] decks, and she gave me some really helpful advice: you want to pressure them to spend a [ccProd]Supreme Verdict[/ccProd] early, because their answers for [ccProd]Stormbreath Dragon[/ccProd] outside of Supreme Verdict are so limited and, in the case of the straight U/W deck, non-existent. Basically, the sooner they snap off a Supreme Verdict, the sooner you can stick a real threat that’s harder to answer, be it Stormbreath Dragon, [ccProd]Chandra Pyromaster[/ccProd], or [ccProd]Assemble the Legion[/ccProd].

Here’s my list:

[deck]Main Deck
3 Hammer of Purphoros
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
4 Fanatic of Mogis
4 Temple of Triumph
3 Chained to the Rocks
4 Stormbreath Dragon
2 Chandra, Pyromaster
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Boros Reckoner
1 Boros Guildgate
3 Mizzium Mortars
4 Frostburn Weird
4 Ash Zealot
4 Sacred Foundry
12 Mountain
Sideboard
3 Anger of the Gods
1 Chained to the Rocks
1 Wear and Tear
1 Glare of Heresy
1 Mizzium Mortars
1 Firemane Avenger
4 Boros Charm
3 Assemble the Legion[/deck]

A few things about this list in particular:

• I wanted more 3-drops in the deck, and as it turns out, this deck really likes having a [ccProd]Fervor[/ccProd] in play, as opposed to [ccProd]Purphoros, God of the Forge[/ccProd], a big fat do-nothing that generally winds up being a liability.

• The Firemane Avenger technology is thanks to other genius-person Bryan Gottlieb, who, along with Max Brown, is qualified for PT Valencia, and I’m excited to see what they come up with. They’re definitely a pair to keep an eye on that weekend, especially if you like Ed Hardy shirts, Applebee’s, and the New York Times Best-Seller The Game.

• A really dumb part of me wanted to shave a land for some other spell, but figured I’d do the legwork to see if it was even a good idea, so I crunched the numbers (read: called up a friend who is good at math) in order to figure out the frequency of hitting my fourth land drop on time, on the play, with 24 and 25 lands in my deck. As it turns out, there are a lot of variables in play here—5 lands come into play tapped, 4 of them scry, Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx is legendary, I will mulligan all one-, six-, and seven-landers, and I need one of the lands to produce white mana. This is a lot to account for.

Without factoring in any of the nuances, my friend determined that 24 lands means you’ll hit your fourth land on time 63% of the time, while 25 lands increases that percentage to 67.5%. So the difference was relatively small, and I determined that there wasn’t really another spell I wanted to play that was worth the 4.5% decrease. The possibility is always there if I discover that I want to play something else, but at this point, I’ll just take the 25th land. I imagine that the 4.5% difference would be maintained even when factoring in every single nuance, but I’m not enough of a maniac to actually do that. Also I don’t know the math. Maybe Frank Karsten does. You should bug him on Twitter to figure it out.

• [ccProd]Chandra, Pyromaster[/ccProd] is just awesome here. Giving this deck extra cards is akin to giving Charlie Kelly five dollars—he’s just going to be able to stretch that extra resource further than anyone else. Opponents know this, and most of the time, will exhaust multiple resources to kill it. 5 loyalty is a lot, and if they can’t just 1-for-1 it, they wind up playing into you by killing your Chandra. Your draws are just so live so often that forcing them to attack into you really plays into what you’re trying to do—catch an opponent with their pants down and kill them with a Fanatic of Mogis for a lot.

• I’m trying out [ccProd]Glare of Heresy[/ccProd] as an alternative to the second [ccProd]Wear // Tear[/ccProd] because all the enchantments you want to kill are white anyway ([ccProd]Chained to the Rocks[/ccProd], [ccProd]Detention Sphere[/ccProd]), plus it has the added upside of dealing with peskier things, such as [ccProd]Boros Reckoner[/ccProd], [ccProd]Voice of Resurgence[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Elspeth, Sun’s Champion[/ccProd]. Thea says she likes the second Wear // Tear, but I can’t really think of any artifacts I want to kill. What I’m getting at it that the Glare of Heresy/Wear // Tear slot is pretty flexible and essentially depends on what you’re expecting to see.

• I wanted to run 3 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx but was shouted down by everybody, which makes sense because it’s the best card in the deck and is the source of all your nut draws. Play four.

If you’re looking for a deck that has good position in Standard, R/w Devotion is a fine choice. You’re not drawing dead to any deck, and Thoughtseize doesn’t just break you. It’s also pretty hard for you to just die to a random deck. The deck lends itself to a lot of explosive “oops, I win” draws, and it’s perfect for taking advantage of an unprepared opponent.

Happy holidays!

Jon Corpora
pronounced Ca-pora
@feb31st

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