Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Making Magic in the Arena - Mono Black Devotion

Theros: Beyond Death has finally arrive to Magic: Arena, and with it a whole host of new and returning cards and mechanics. One of those mechanics is Devotion, and no card is more representative of Devotion's power than one of the MTG communities old favorites: Gary Asphodel.

And with Gary back in Standard, it's only natural that mono-black devotion is one of the most commonly built decks in the new format. Like many others, I was also eager to hop onto the Gary train.

I took the decklist I was using from here, but it appears to have been modified in the time since.

At its core, the deck's primary goal is to increase our devotion to black high enough to swing the game with single successful cast of Gary. It is difficult to overstate how powerful Gary is despite being only a 2/4 for 5-mana, largely due to his enter the battlefield trigger. I have had games where I have won simply by using it when my devotion to black was over 10, meaning my opponent lost that much life in a single shot, and I gained it all back.

To facilitate this, we will favor cards that have as many black symbols in their mana costs as possible. Thankfully, we don't have to sacrifice any value for this. Mono-black has many strong tools at their disposal, the trick is to find the best ones for our job.

Yarok's Fenlurker is a fine example of one of those tools. Both of it's 2-mana cost are in the form of black symbols, meaning it adds 2 to our devotion just by being on board. But beyond that, it forces our opponent to exile a card from their hand. Even if it gets removed later on, it's done its job just hitting the table.

Ayara, First of Locthwain is another strong card that contributes heavily to our devotion by costing specifically 3 black mana. She gives us extra value and life for every single creature we play, and if one of them is the target of a spell, or if we need the gas, we can use her to sacrifice a creature for some extra card draw.

Nightmare Shepherd and Erebos, Black-Hearted serve similar purposes, protecting our board from the threat of board wipes. The Nightmare does so by allowing us to turn them into 1/1 tokens, and Erebos by giving us the chance to draw cards off their demise, for the low price of 2 life per card.

Tymaret, Chosen from Death serves two purposes beyond boosting our devotion. The first is as a resilient blocker that can gum up the works when our opponents try to swing at us. More importantly, he's a way to extract problem cards from their graveyards, like the dreaded Cat/Oven combo. Erebos's Intervention fulfills that second task as well, while also acting as a removal piece if need be. Our other removal options are Eat to Extinction, which is valuable exile piece, and Murderous Rider, which can also be played as a creature to increase our devotion.

And while you're likely familiar with pieces like Knight of the Ebon Legion, Order of Midnight and Cavalier of Night, you probably haven't seen much of Bolas's Citadel before. If it successfully resolves, the card advantage we'll accrue off of it is more valuable than any amount of life we'll spend. Combined with a good Gary, there's little our opponent can do to stop us if we reach this point.

This specific version of the deck might not be that powerful, but I look forward to seeing how it develops as Theros Standard continues.

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