Grand Prix Los Angeles was only 1 week after Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir. What this meant for the metagame was exactly what you would expect; the decks that did well at the Pro Tour would be heavily represented in the Grand Prix field. So why did I decide to play one of the worst-performing archetypes from the PT, Green Devotion (I played Jeskai in the PT, but switched for the GP)?
- Card choices I felt I could make that addressed the weaknesses which emerged during the PT.
- When everyone expects you to zig, all else being equal, it is time to zag.
Standard right now contains “archetypes” like Green Devotion, Abzan, Jeskai, that can be built so many different ways that the archetype framework almost breaks down when you zoom in on individual card choices and the matchups that result. The Green Devotion lists people played at the PT were poorly positioned. Doomwake Giants just don’t beat Mantis Riders and Stormbreath Dragons, and that’s a big big piece of the puzzle. I knew that for 5 mana Arbor Colossus, was a better return on investment than Doomwake Giant, and I would be playing 4 Arbor Colossus.
There used to be little payoff for playing mono-green instead of splashing…. Used to be.
The other key change to how I started thinking about Green Devotion is that you have to prepare to race game 1 and grind games 2 and 3. Other decks are configured this way if you look at the Pro Tour and Grand Prix deck lists. You can’t just bury your head in the sand, you have to build your deck to play the style of game post-sideboard that is realistic given the answers other people are boarding in. Nessian Game Warden lets you do something few other cards in this archetype do—you get to develop your hand while deploying a fatty. If the opponent has End Hostilities or a whole lot of spot removal, free Impulses are exactly what you need. Props to Reid Duke and the rest of Team Pantheon for testing with Nessian Game Warden in our Hawaii house and showing me the card is powerful.
Again, in light of the “race game 1, grind game 2” realization, I saw that Hornet Nest was in many sideboards, even though it is only good game 1 in many matchups! So often you play against Seeker of the Way and Goblin Rabblemaster game 1 and then those guys get sideboarded out. I wanted my Hornet’s Nest equity in the game 1s against these racing ground creatures, and in other matchups I knew sometimes it would be dead (control) but many times it would be perfect (RG monsters, Red Aggro, Temur) or serviceable (mirror, Mardu). I sideboarded it out everywhere except against RG/Red/Temur, and that’s fine because I had plenty to sideboard in every time.
One match in the GP, Hornet Nest won a game almost no other card would have won. My opponent had a Rabblemaster in play and a hand of Rabblemaster #2, Crackling Doom, Crackling Doom, and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker. I had a Caryatid and a Voyaging Satyr, and played Genesis Hydra for 5. If I just put a fatty into play, both my guys are going to get killed off and Rabblemaster and/or Sarkhan are going to finish me. Instead, I had this 0 power, Doom-proof bomb in Hornet Nest to block a Goblin token every turn and threaten to block Rabblemaster if it ever attacked. For 4 or 5 straight turns a Hornet attacked Sarkhan for 1, another Hornet chump-blocked Sarkhan, and the Nest blocked a Goblin to make a new Hornet. Eventually I drew a Genesis Hydra and won the game (and then immediately sideboarded out the Hornet Nests).
2 maindeck Setessan Tactics was a way for me to have more answers to flyers and Doomwake Giants and also a way to blow people out with Hornet Nest.
My deck was going to be bad against pure control no matter what. This list is about punishing midrange and tempo, the classic “over the top” big midrange strategy.
One more cool story from the GP: Game 2 against Fabrizio Anteri he had 8 Soldier tokens, a Mantis Rider, and a Brimaz, and activated Elspeth’s ultimate. He attacked and looked at me like, “So, take 50? Why haven’t you scooped?” That’s when I cast Windstorm.
They always go more controlling after SB, but some use End Hostilities + Disdainful Stroke, and others use Suspension Field + Disdainful Stroke, and some have Anger of the Gods. Either way you want to cut Hornet Nest and 2-4 Voyaging Satyrs for your Windstorms and Game Wardens. I like to have 1-2 Tactics still in my deck and also 1-2 Back to Nature and the Unravel the Aether. The Reclamation Sage is last to come in because it’s sorcery speed and trumped by Hushwing Gryff. I would actually just play 2 Unravel the Aether next time I played the deck, it’s a better card even with Hydra and Game Warden taken into account.
Nylea’s Disciple is pretty good against Jeskai, but if I know they have End Hostilities/Anger then I think 2 copies is all you want.
If I know they have Hushwing Gryff or Nullify maindeck, I’ll cut the Hornet Queens. Too much has to go right and it costs 7 mana. Getting a Game Warden Hushed or Nullified isn’t a tragedy but the same cannot be said of Queen Hornetifah.
Game Warden and Nissa are ready to help you grind things out. Hornet’s Nest can stay in vs. aggro Abzan but not normal Abzan. Tactics is pretty good if they have Lions and Wingmate Rocs. The Abzan decks have different configurations so you need to play a few things by ear here. Voyaging Satyr always gets cut, it sets you up to get blown out by Drown in Sorrow or flooded against Thoughtseizes and spot removal, and you don’t need to ramp ramp ramp in these grindy games.
If you feel the need to kill Wingmate Roc with other-than-Arbor Colossus, please use Tactics to do it not Windstorm. Not sure I’ve seen a list with 5+ Rocs and Hornet Queens total but that’s what it would take to get the Windstorms in.
If they have Herald of Torment Windstorm still doesn’t show a profit but 2 Nylea’s Disciple might.
Your best matchups. This is actually where you need the Disciples the most to “counter” late-game Crater’s Claws. That’s how they can beat you, so don’t let them. Arbor Colossus stays home quite a bit where they might have one of the Dragons in hand. Trading even a conditional 4 life for 6 of their life often doesn’t advance your game plan. Hunt the Hunter out of Temur is great against you, but if you drew Hornet Nest it won’t matter and even if you didn’t it’s pretty hard for them to keep beating the next thing you play. Tactics is a little win-more but is still good. I like 2 copies. 2-4 Voyaging Satyr can be cut, I like it more on the draw and less on the play, so I might have 2 on the draw 0 on the play.
There’s a number of total Stormbreaths + Phoenixes + Hornet Queens where Windstorm starts to show a profit. If it looks like your opponent is playing the GPLA winning 75, go ahead and grab a Windstorm or two.
Don’t be afraid to bring in Nissa because they have Sarkhans. I’ll say that again—bring in your Nissas! The reason is that they probably have sweepers and Elspeths after sideboard (if not before) and Nissa is just a very valuable tool trampling over Elspeth tokens or killing their Sarkhan when they wrath then Sarkhan or Sarkhan then wrath. If I had a 3rd Nissa (which is reasonable) I would be glad to bring it in. Nessian Game Warden really shines here (as usual) because most Mardu decks are at their core about 1-for-1’ing you with Crackling Doom and Hero’s Downfall.
UW or UB Control
It’s going to be tough, but Nissa is here to help and so is Unravel the Aether (Banishing Light in the UW deck or Perilous Vault in the UB deck). Don’t forget to take Nylea out of your deck against UB, it’s probably the worst card you have against them.
If they are green/black then enchantment removal is good and Hornet Queen and Hornet Nest are bad. If they are mono-green or red/green then take the exact opposite approach to disenchants and Queen Bey. This is what the 3rd Setessan Tactics is meant for, so bring it in.
Expensive stuff (Queen, Nylea, Arbor Colossus) out, obviously life gain comes in. Game Wardens can find the Disciples so they will outperform Arbor Colossus against fast red. Reclamation Sage is very reasonable because while killing a Hammerhand is not where you make your money, getting a cheap body with a little upside is plenty enough to outperform a slower card.
Anything with Whip of Erebos in It
Mostly it’s like playing vs. Abzan but now you want all the enchantment removal in your deck. These decks will struggle to grind you out if you can kill Whip reliably.
Try to interact. Try not to not interact. Bad matchup, but you won’t face it often (just like dedicated control, the scarcity/low-power-level of these decks is why I like playing devotion right now).