18, Mar, 24

Strange Strixhaven Bulk Rare Gives Dead Devotion Deck New Life!

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Article at a Glance

Over the past week, the talk of the town amongst Constructed players has been the recent ban announcement. Banning Violent Outburst created some shifts within the Modern metagame. Even though Cascade decks are far from dead, players had to turn to other replacements, such as Ardent Plea. With less Cascade decks to worry about on average, Yawgmoth, Thran Physician combo decks have been performing extremely well.

Meanwhile, in Vintage, Ponder was unrestricted. This doesn’t appear to have created major change in the format, but decks like Doomsday combo have become more consistent as a result. The biggest part of the ban announcement that had many players up in arms, though, was the fact that no changes were made in Pioneer or Legacy. Treasure Cruise and Grief have been absolutely dominant in Pioneer and Legacy, respectively.

In Pioneer, with no changes being made, it was tough to believe that many decks outside of maybe Abzan Amalia Benavides Aguirre combo, Lotus Field combo, Izzet Phoenix, or Rakdos Vampires could perform super well in this hostile environment. As it turns out, one archetype had a bit of a surprising breakout performance: mono-green Devotion.

When Karn, the Great Creator was around, mono-green was everywhere. Since then, the deck has suffered quite a bit. However, with a recent top 16 finish in a Magic Online Pioneer Challenge, perhaps we shouldn’t be overlooking this shell as much as we have been.

The Usual Suspects

Llanowar Elves

The majority of the cards featured in this deck overlap with the core of the old mono-green Devotion shell. First and foremost, the deck wouldn’t be complete without Elvish Mystic and Llanowar Elves. These premier one-drop accelerants make it easy to play your cards ahead of schedule. It’s very common to cast Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner or Old-Growth Troll on turn two, setting up for a big follow-up.

Old-Growth Troll and Polukranos Reborn are solid threats that put a lot of pressure on the opponent right off the bat. However, they do much more than just that. With Kiora in play, your burly three-drops become cantrips as well. With access to Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, these three-drops immediately add three Devotion to help you cast big spells. In games where you play Troll or Polukranos turn two after playing an Elf turn one, your opponent now has to fear Cavalier of Thorns coming down the following turn thanks to Nykthos.

Part of what makes this green deck a pain is that removal isn’t exactly super effective against Troll or Cavalier. If you kill Troll, it becomes an Enchantment that not only ramps your opponent further, but adds three Devotion for Nykthos all the same. Cavalier is a monster that helps dig you towards Nykthos, and if you kill it, your opponent gets to make sure their next draw is a good one.

Additionally, Cavalier can mill copies of Storm the Festival, which is the ultimate Devotion payoff. Getting to put two potent cards into play is already good, but the fact that it has Flashback makes it incredible. Sure, it costs ten mana to Flashback, but this is surprisingly easy with Nykthos in the mix.

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Where Things Differ

Gnarled Professor

Where things get interesting is with the inclusion of Garnled Professor in the typical Karn slot. In old Devotion lists, Karn provided the deck with an infinite combo utilizing The Chain Veil, the flip side of Pestilent Cauldron, and looping Planeswalkers. With enough Devotion and multiple copies of Karn and Kiora between the battlefield and the graveyard, you could gain infinite life with via the flip side of Pestilent Cauldron. From there, the front side of Cauldron provided a way to deck your opponent, making winning trivial.

While this combo was a bit convoluted, it meant that the mono-green deck didn’t have to worry about winning via traditional combat. Karn also provided a lot of utility in different spots, letting you tutor for various cards depending on the situation and matchup. Without Karn, this deck turns to another intriguing toolbox-style card: Gnarled Professor.

Gnarled Professor is a big Creature in its own right, but its real power comes from its Learn ability. If you have a decent amount of Devotion, you can grab Mascot Exhibition and flood the board, preparing to win the game the following turn. Otherwise, you could grab Environmental Sciences to help hit your Land drops, or cheaper pieces of interaction, like Containment Breach or Introduction to Annihilation.

While certainly weaker, Gnarled Professor helps provide a similar mix of options as well as a mana sink that could be used as a win condition. Unlike Karn, Gnarled Professor only requires a few sideboard slots to be utilized. As such, this deck uses playsets of Damping Sphere and Scavenging Ooze to provide some relief against Izzet Phoenix and Lotus Field combo.

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Strengths and Weaknesses

Amalia Benavides Aguirre

Between the size of the Creatures this deck plays and the value cards like Professor and Cavalier can generate, this deck has a decent gameplan against Izzet Phoenix. Azorius control, despite having access to counter magic, can struggle against the deck’s massive mana advantage if even a single payoff resolves. Midrange decks have historically struggled against value-oriented beaters like Troll and Cavalier, so adding Professor to the party has its benefits.

The main issue with this strategy is how poorly its position is against combo decks. Damping Sphere is obviously strong against Lotus Field, but the matchup can be tough without it. Not being able to combo yourself with Karn or grab The Stone Brain to help cheese combo matchups is a big deal.

Speaking of which, the Abzan Amalia matchup is awful. This deck plays little interaction, and now having to rely on Creature combat against the deck’s life gain package means that your clock isn’t generally fast enough.

Also, while the midrange matchups are favorable, Rakdos midrange in particular is much less popular nowadays. This is largely due to the rise of Rakdos Vampires. Rakdos Vampires can present a Vein Ripper on turn three, which can be extremely hard for the Devotion deck to beat. In this sense, mono-green has pretty polarizing matchups in the current Pioneer metagame. If you’re a fan of this style of deck and don’t expect a ton of Amalia combo, mono-green Devotion is a reasonable choice, but it’s important to acknowledge its limitations.

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