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Devotion in Modern


Adam Koska
Adam Koska

About Adam Koska

Adam is an experienced player from the Czech Republic who has a number of high-profile finishes under his belt:

  • 9th at Worlds 2009
  • 9th at Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
  • 45 Lifetime Pro Points
  • Top 32 GP Vienna 2008
  • Top 64 GP Krakow 2007
  • Three times Czech Nationals Top 8

Devotion in Modern

Hey everyone! Today, I’m going to talk about the Theros mechanic Devotion in Modern. Successful Standard strategies commonly transform into successful Modern decks and Devotion is – right now – by far the most powerful mechanic in Standard, so I think it’s useful to explore the potential it has in Modern as well. It won’t be easy, since Modern offers much better tools to disrupt what the opponent is doing than Standard does – there’s much better removal, discard and countermagic. Also, Modern is a much faster environment than Standard and Devotion aims at the midgame, where it wants to reap the rewards for being devoted. In addition, it’s much more difficult to rely on Nyktos when many decks are running Tectonic Edge – while you lose some value by not running Tec Edges and Mutavaults yourself, since you can’t play that many lands that don’t tap for colored mana right from the get go (Nyktos doesn’t). On the other hand, since Modern offers way more cards than Standard, it’s only logical that we have access to many more Devotion enablers (cards with multiple symbols of a single color in their cost) as well as great mana sinks that can do some fairly ridiculous things with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. There are only very few playable X-spells in Standard right now, for example (Rakdos's Return and Sphinx's Revelation stand out, but Revelation and Devotion don’t even really go well together). In Modern, the number of great mana-hungry cards is much bigger and the potential of Nykthos thus increases by a lot.

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Theros (Foil)

Devotion is quite a new thing in Modern. There have been some decklists (mostly green) flying around on MTGO and in various articles, but the archetype as a whole is still very crude and we’ll basically have to start building from scratch. When putting together a devotion deck in Modern, we’re going to look mostly for two things: enablers and mana sinks. In this case, the enablers are going to be cards with as much colored mana in their cost as possible – ideally, these cards should make your „good“ draws insane, but they should also be able to do something on their own, when your opponent disrupts your game-plan. The same should go for mana sinks – while Worldspine Wurm might be a cool card to ramp into with Nykthos, we need something that we’re going to be able to cast even when we don’t draw our Nykthos or our Devotion gets disrupted by discard and removal.

I’ve already mentioned that green is the color that most players looking for a Modern Devotion deck have been experimenting with – and for good reason. However, I would like to start with a different color. Black, in my opinion, has probably the two or three best „mana sinks“ that are good on their own, but can get absolutely huge in a Nyktos-powered draw and it also has a healthy number of triple- and even quadruple-black permanents that are good on their own (and no, Nightveil Specter isn’t making the transition to Modern anytime soon). This is the list that I’ve been working on recently:

Modern Devotion to Black

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Average: 4 (4 votes)

Phyrexian Obliterator
New Phyrexia (Foil)

This build is fairly straightforward and it tries to play as many heavy-black cards as possible to go with the Nykthoses that can work here as the ultimate Cabal Coffers. The deck is really mana-hungry, with multiple 4-drops, 5-drops and X-spells and maybe relies too heavily on the legendary land to have the unfair draws. Without the Shrine, it tends to be a bit on the slow side. That’s why I think it’s correct to include Deathrite Shaman for acceleration, even though it’s a monocolored deck. Having the possibility to go turn 1 Shaman, turn 2 Geralf's Messenger or Phyrexian Arena is simply too good to pass up and even though eight fetches might not seem like enough, you’ll often be able to eat the opponent’s fetches as well, so I wouldn’t worry about lack of fodder. Paying life to fetch only basic Swamps is a price we have to pay to have access to the black Llanowar Elf, but with Urborgs, you sometimes don’t even need to crack the Fetches and can simply tap them for mana if you’re too low on life.

I’ve already mentioned that the deck is not the fastest archetype in the world and because of the Devotion mechanic, it can’t even afford to run too much removal (a black Oblivion Ring would be nice, but instants and sorceries don’t get you anywhere in terms of Devotion), but discard can help a lot in this regard – in this deck, we don’t want to use it to strip the opponent’s hand of his or her haymakers, but rather to disrupt their curve, so that our Obliterators and Demigods have time to have a say in the game and we can fire off massive Nykthos-powered Profane Commands. Liliana of the Veil is also a viable addition and could assume the role of removal that also boosts your Devotion, but I think I prefer Phyrexian Arena in her place in the deck. First, since you’re not running too much removal, making them sacrifice a creature often won’t accomplish what you want. If you can clear the way with Bolts and Abrupt Decays, Liliana will reliably be able to hit the creature you want, since the opponent won’t have anything else to sacrifice. But this deck is a bit light in terms of direct removal, so this won’t work regularly. Second, with Devotion, the more cards you have, the better they work together, so I’d rather be drawing extra cards with Phyrexian Arena than discarding them to Liliana. This might be wrong and Liliana might very well belong in the deck, but so far, I’ve been happy with my Arenas in this slot.

Another possible addition to the deck is Gray Merchant of Asphodel in the place of Demigod of Revenge. I don’t think you can play both, but I like Demigod better, since he does more on his own when all your other permanents get hit by removal and discard. It’s true that right now, the deck only uses devotion for the playset of Nykthoses, but I think that’s enough and Gray Merchant simply doesn’t have enough of an impact in Modern, unlike Standard.

Profane Command – while certainly being an excellent mana sink and a great addition to black Devotion – isn’t the only playable black X-card in Modern and I think there is another very interesting path you can take with black Devotion in this format. The other X-spell that works very well with Nykthos is Death Cloud and there are even some fairly synergic cards for this archetype. Geralf's Messenger bounces back right after you cast the massive Death Cloud and Bloodghast – a nice double-black card to power your Devotion – does the same as soon as you play your next land. Liliana would very likely have a place in this deck as well, since she survives the Death Cloud and you can discard stuff like Bloodghast or even Gravecrawler into her +1 ability without really losing any value (or even with gaining some value in case of Bloodghast). I haven’t finalized the decklist of this second option, but if you have some ideas what might make this deck work (Smallpox, maybe?), be sure to share them in the comments!

Black is the color with the most allure for me in terms of Devotion in Modern, but with a bit of an effort, I think that almost every color could benefit greatly from the addition of Nykthos and some Devotion subtheme. White is perhaps the exception, since it doesn’t really have any good mana-sink, has the worst God and doesn’t really go into this direction at all. Devout Lightcaster is a nice triple-white card (with a lot of targets in the current Modern meta), but that’s pretty much it. Blue has some nice things going for it with Thassa and Master of Waves – two cards that Merfolk could very well use to go over the top – but again, you don’t really want to be firing blue X-spells with your deck focused on board presence, which decreases the potential of Nykthos a lot. Red, however, certainly does have some potential as far as Devotion is concerned and the red Devotion deck looks quite promising. Here’s my current list:

Modern Devotion to Red

Converted Mana Cost
Basic Land21
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Average: 3.5 (4 votes)

Purphoros, God of the Forge
Theros (Foil)

This deck is not so big on Nykthos, but instead uses the power of Purphoros, God of the Forge. Fanatic of Mogis is also a card to consider, but I think that the other 4-drops are simply better. So, what does the red God do in this deck? Many things, as it turns out. First, in a deck with 28 other red permanents (many of them double- or even triple-red), it’s not hard at all to turn on Purphoros’s Devotion. Giving your little red men +1/+0 is also very welcome, especially since many of your cards produce multiple tokens or have doublestrike. But by far the best ability of the red God is the one that deals damage. There are so many insane scenarios that kill the opponent out of nowhere when you play Purphoros that the card is an absolute monster in this deck. Turn 4 Purphoros, turn 5 Siege-Gang Commander deals 8 damage to the dome without even putting forth too much effort. Turn four Krenko, turn five Purphoros + Krenko activation will frequently do the same. The deck can deal tons of damage out of nowhere, has Bolts to deal with opposing small creatures and can simply swarm the bigger ones. Some of the Nykthos-fueled draws can also be absurd and with a start of one-drop – Instigator – Ram-gang, you can reach seven mana on turn four.

The green decks are probably the ones that can do the most broken things with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. First, they have many good cheap creatures that add a lot of Devotion, good ways to search up Nykthos (including Primeval Titan or even Knight of the Reliquary, if you’re willing to stretch the manabase a bit), a great planeswalker in Garruk Wildspeaker (who can untap Nykthos) and obviously also great mana sinks – expensive green monsters have been an inherent part of Magic ever since the dawn of the game. There are basically two ways how to approach green Devotion: either you can try to „go off“ with Genesis Wave or you can try a more „fair“ strategy. The first approach can do more broken things and can win faster, with Genesis Waves chaining into one another (the idea is basically to cast a large Nykthos-fuelled Wave, flip another Nykthos, some lands and an Eternal Witness to bring back the original Wave, dropping your whole deck into play in one fell swoop). But it’s also less consistent, since you need to really fill your deck with pretty much just mana ramp and Waves. Needless to say, if you have your Genesis Wave discarded or countered, you can find yourself in a lot of trouble too. The second approach doesn’t go so all in on Nykthos, but can have some pretty broken draws nevertheless. I’ve mentioned at the beginning that I think a successful Devotion deck needs to have a really strong A-game when everything is going as planned, but also shouldn’t fall apart if the opponent has some disruption. This second deck that I prefer is more midrange. Most work on it has been done by Petr Brožek, who has put a lot of testing into it and competed in several local tournaments. With his permission, I present to you the following build:

Modern Devotion to Green

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I really like how this build does things differently than most of the green Devotion decks that I’ve seen so far. Instead of Genesis Wave, which is an unreliable 9-mana win condition (that sometimes doesn’t even win), you have Chameleon Colossus – a creature that you can play on turn three and it becomes lethal pretty much the turn after that (reaching eight or even twelve mana is not something unusual here). It’s also nice that the Colossus is immune to the vast majority of removal played in the format, with the sole exception of Path to ExileArbor Elf works overtime in this deck – it will frequently give you two or even three mana, thanks to Utopia Sprawl and Fertile Ground, two cards that also work very well with Garruk WildspeakerPrimeval Titan fetches the good old combo of Inkmoth Nexus + Kessig Wolf-Run, but can also grab another Nykthos in case you’re lacking the „combo piece“ of the deck. Summoner's Pact is there mostly to fetch the Titan or Craterhoof Behemoth, the most common win condition. It’s really nice to be able to play the Behemoth as a one-of, but have access to virtually four copies, making sure that you have the beast at hand when you reach eight mana. Harmonizes, Primal Commands and Eternal Witnesses are there mostly for the attrition matchups – to make sure that you can win even when the opponent is interfering with your game plan.

There are of course other cards that you can play in this archetype – what I like about it so much is that you can take it into so many directions: as a more „aggro“ deck, midrange or even combo. Some of the other cards that didn’t make the cut but easily could have been included are Deus of Calamity, Leatherback Baloth or Reverent Hunter.

That’s all from me for today. If you’re planning to attend GP Prague next weekend, I wish you good luck and perhaps see you there! And of course if you have something you’d like to share about the Devotion mechanic in Modern, make sure to drop a line in the comments!

Thanks for reading and see you next time,

Adam Koska

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