Deviations from the Norm with John B. Turpish  



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11.09.01  New-found Devotion?

A number of deck concepts were discarded in the previous type 2 because they could not compete with the decks built around Blastoderm, Saproling Burst, and Yavimaya Fires that are commonly referred to as "Fires" decks.  I feel that many of these deck ideas may now deserve a second look, because the aggression level has been turned down a notch, which puts less pressure on speed and makes certain strategies more viable.  Also, any time new cards come in the value of other cards are in flux, which causes them to be played in changing quantities, which causes other cards' values to change.  Tokens make bounce more powerful.  Various creatures make Flametongue Kavu more powerful, which makes bounce in a creature-light deck more powerful.

One deck that had been overlooked and seems to have climbed in power due to the recent metagame shift, was the deck built around Warped Devotion.  I typically don't list a card's text, because I am under the assumption that if you do not know the card you can refer to a card database, such as Apprentice's deck editor, Magic Suitcase, or the Ultimate Spoiler Generator found on MTGnews.  But let's review Warped Devotion anyway.  With a mana cost of 2B, it is a global enchantment with the triggered ability, "When a permanent is returned to a players hand, that player discards a card."  So this deck was blue and black, black because of the Warped Devotion, and blue because all of the quality bounce spells are in that color.  I've always kept it to that, because I feel the deck needs all the help it can get in consistency, and adding another color decreases consistency.  Warped Devotion is a global effect with only indirect benefits, and as such has two inherent flaws.  First, it can be used to your opponent's benefit, in this case if they have any way of returning your permanents to your hand.  The other is the fact that it is indirect, meaning it doesn't help you win the game on its own.  As a matter fact, it does absolutely nothing on its own.  So to justify Warped Devotion, we need to have the ability to return large numbers of permanents to our opponent's hand on a regular basis.

In my old Warped Devotion deck, with which I had some success, I used four Overburdens and a Mana Breach.  Then to make sure that they would affect my opponent more than they affected me, my only creatures were a pair of Nightscape Familiars, four Waterfront Bouncers, two Temporal Adepts, and one Squee, Goblin Nabob, which I was incapable of playing.  Furthermore, I used four Seal of Removal.  All this meant that Overburden would seldom bounce one of my lands, and that Mana Breach would work in my favor because after it was played I would almost certainly need to play fewer spells than my opponent.  Discarding Squee either to activate my Bouncers or too the discard that Overburden or Mana Breach caused me almost always assured me card advantage.  But with the loss of Overburden, Squee, and Waterfront Bouncer, this strategy seems obsolete.  Mana Breaches alone didn't seem appealing to me, especially without Waterfront Bouncer, because I'm almost certainly going to be permanent-light.

Let's start off the discussion of what I propose for a modern Devotion deck with a decklist, shall we?

Devotion to the Clause

4 Warped Devotion
4 Aether Burst
4 Repulse
4 Recoil
2 Rushing River
4 Shadowmage Infiltrator
4 Counterspell
4 Opt
4 Sleight of Hand
4 Tainted Pact
2 Haunting Echoes
4 Salt Marsh
4 Underground River
1 Dromar's Cavern
1 Darkwater Catacombs
9 Island
1 Swamp


4 Innocent Blood
4 Hibernation
4 Duress
3 Planar Overlay

This may not be the correct decklist, but I feel the local maximum is not far off.  First let me explain the justification for inclusion of these cards.

Recoil - Obviously bounce spells are necessary in great number with Warped Devotion.  This happens to be one of the better ones available in these colors.  It has a little bonus over other bounce spells, though.  Have you ever noticed how it acts more like an instant Vindicate when their hand is empty?  Well with Warped Devotion is in play all bounce spells are like that, so there is a definite benefit to come from emptying their hand.  This card is the only one which will not increase their hand size without Warped Devotion, and with the Devotion it acts as a discard spell as well, decreasing their hand size.  I don't feel that the benefit to be had from their empty hand is great enough to justify discard spells maindeck, as they have no synergy with Warped Devotion directly.  However, a discard spell which is also a bounce spell?  It fits perfectly into this deck's strategy, and should be run in full complement.

Repulse - Another excellent bounce spell, this card really needs no more justification other than this deck needs a lot of bounce.  However, it has other good things to say about itself.  First is the drawback of its targeting restriction - it only bounces creatures.  There are VERY few good decks without a fair number of creatures in them in current type 2.  If you do run across one, you'll have four almost entirely useless cards game one, then side them out.  Second, it's a cantrip.  This is actually better for this deck than the discard of Recoil.  This deck needs deck manipulation in large numbers, and card drawing specifically, to keep running.  You need that Devotion.  When you get it you need bounce.  Later you'll need Haunting Echoes.  Cantrips essentially thin your deck and make these things easier to draw.  Class A material for this deck, four is a definite unless you plan to see one creatureless deck after the other.

Rushing River - Clearly inferior to the previous two spells within the confines of this strategy, this one could be omitted if need be.  It's more expensive than boomerang and has a targeting restriction that may actually come up with this deck, since you'll be aiming everything you can at their non-lands, meaning they may run out.  The only plus on this card is the ability to return two permanents, which not only can buy you some considerable tempo, but with Warped Devotion in play is quite powerful.  With two it's devastating.

Aether Burst - Speaking of tempo, this card is insane.  Recently a writer for sideboard pointed out, though I think he exaggerated the point, that when you use X mana to neutralize an opponent's action which requires more than X mana, you tend to gain tempo.  This means that when you play Aether Burst, if that creature cost your opponent more than two mana to play, you gain tempo.  If any subsequent one targets more than one creature, their COMBINED mana cost need only be more than two to gain tempo.  This is really the ultimate in stall cards, particularly in a creature-heavy environment such as this one.  In comes Warped Devotion.  Two mana.  One card.  Eliminate two or more threats.  Incredible.  You'd be nuts not to run four of these.

Shadowmage Infiltrator - If your opponent draws a card every turn, and you draw a card every turn, and 2/3 of your opponent's deck is threats, and 3/5 of your deck is ways to deal with that threat, you're going to lose.  You need to draw cards and establish card advantage.  This does both.  It also aids in the finding of the next part of your strategy, whether it be bounce, the Devotion, or the Echoes.  Even if you can't find the devotion, two draws a turn can allow you burn off bounce spells stalling your opponent.  It's an excellent card, and great for this deck.  It's just too bad it's a creature, and therefore a nice target for Flametongue Kavu, not to mention the only thing holding me back from maindecking Innocent Blood.

Counterspell - Among the most versatile disruption ever printed, and with a  low mana cost, it's hard not to throw four of these in any deck based in blue.  This will cause your opponent to use two burn spells, instead of just one, on your Shadowmage Infiltrator, which could buy you a turn of drawing two cards, not to mention saving some damage that would otherwise point at you.  This could also stop people from destroying Warped Devotion, which would be a major issue for you.  This deck simply does not have the slots for all the countermagic that would be needed to compete with the permission-based control decks, and it shouldn't try.  Luckily in that matchup you get some time to sit back and relax, which means you can try to just sneak through important spells when your opponent least expects it.

Opt/Sleight of Hand - I've said it before, and I'll say it again, this deck needs deck manipulation.  These provide decent manipulation during in slots on your mana curve where you normally wouldn't have anything else to do.  Yes, this deck misses Seal of Removal.  Peek deserves consideration.

Tainted Pact - Extremely similar in argument to the above, this increases by an even greater extent the chances of a third turn Warped Devotion, which by the way, can mean the difference between a win and a loss.  A solid card anyway, this card slides right in and fits perfectly in this deck.

Haunting Echoes - Your strategy is based around getting your opponent's cards into her graveyard.  Then, if you play Haunting Echoes, your opponent soon becomes much easier to handle and on the clock as they will deck before you.  You'll be waiting with a hand full of bounce and two Warped Devotions in play when they finally draw a spell.  This is the finisher of choice for a disruption-heavy, creature-light deck with black in it.  It really is good.  I only include 2 because it isn't playable until you've played five land anyway, and with as much deck manipulation as this deck has you should draw it soon after that point.  You really don't need to play two of them.

Salt Marsh - Not a lot of 1 drops.  This card is great.  The deck is blue and black.  Good enough?

Underground River - Though Salt Marsh is better for this deck, this considerably ups the deck's consistency.  That's good.

Dromar's Cavern - This deck would hate multiples, but the first is pretty easy to swallow, and it may throw off your opponent making them think you're playing with white, and therefore Meddling Mage and Spectral Lynx.  This also increases mana consistency.

Darkwater Catacombs - Another land you don't want to draw two of early, the first of these is easy.  Am I obsessed with mana consistency?  Perhaps.  Perhaps mana screw is something Magic players don't like.

Swamp - Am I really going to justify basic land?  No, but I am going to say that more than one swamp isn't necessary.  In a deck with 18 cards that require black mana, when the only double-specific cost is late-game, I feel 11 black producers should be fine.  How often will you not draw a single of those 11 lands before turn 3, when you really need it most?

Island - This is a general note on the seemingly small number of lands.  You know I remember a time when 20 lands in a 60 card deck was perfectly acceptable.  This deck's mana curve is relatively low, with only two five-mana spells and nothing higher, not to mention nothing at four.  More importantly, though, the deck has four cantrips (Repulse), eight super-cantrips (Opt and Sleight of Hand), and a card often compared to Impulse which was a great deck manipulation spell (Tainted Pact).  This is in addition to the Infiltrator.  This all means that getting the land you need shouldn't be a tremendous issue.

On the sideboard…

If you run against a deck with a lot of burn and four Flametongue Kavu, which I think will be rather common, Shadowmage Infiltrator is no longer optimal.  Actually, he's one of the reasons those decks are viable.  Replace him with Innocent Blood.  Suddenly you're creatureless, which makes Innocent Blood a Diabolic Edict for one less mana.  Their Flametongue Kavu are much less effective, and they're unlikely to side them out.  It's an early play against a deck archetype which often necessitates dealing with early threats.

True control is bad times for this deck, as they have fewer permanents for you to hit, and they can stop your clutch cards.  Duress will help draw out counters.  Repulse is less effective, so you may want to simply trade them off.  Tainted Pact is less needed, because speed is no longer as urgent, and Tainted Pact doesn't guarantee you a card like the one-blue-mana alternatives.  You might replace three of them with Planar Overlay if your opponent has three colors or more.  Why not aim at the permanents they will have?  Granted this is a hard thing to pull off against decks heavy in non-basics.  Planar Overlay is one of my least confident choices.

You side in Hibernation against the same fellows you'd side it in with any other deck, those that have lots of green creatures, tokens in particular.  What makes it different is that with this deck Hibernation is INSANE against those decks.  Returning two creatures is worth the three mana and the card, but bouncing ALL of them is unbelievable.  I feel strongly that there should be four of these in the sideboard.  You can trade recoils for these, as those guys usually empty their hands pretty quickly anyway.

Some people are talking about domain.  If it becomes popular, or domain variants like Rice Snack become popular, Planar Overlay quickly becomes the sideboard card of choice.

Cards I wished I could've included but couldn't find slots for:

Nightscape Familiar
Fact or Fiction
Temporal Adept
Memory Lapse

Don't you wish the minimum was 100 cards, so you could fit everything you want in the deck?  It's kind of like wishing for an extra hour in the day or an extra day in the week, you know if you had it you'd want another.

Cards I'm glad I didn't include, and hope you don't:

Ghastly Demise
Doomsday Specter

Megrim only works with four cards in your deck.  Would you put Megrim in a deck with only four Zuran Enchanters and no other discard?  Furthermore it doesn't help you control your opponent, which is what you need to be doing to survive long enough to win.  If it won quickly, then you could consider it.

Lobotomy costs too much.  At that cost you should be bouncing stuff, or dropping a devotion.  If you wait to use it until later there won't be any cards for it to grab.  It just doesn't fit.

Ghastly Demise can't kill a creature until later when you have other ways to deal with creatures that are more powerful due to synergy this card just doesn't have.

Doomsday Specter is gating, and falls into the same mana issue Lobotomy has.  To even think about Specter you'd need to have enough cheap creatures to justify him, and I don't see any cheap creatures in the environment that would be beneficial to this deck.  The Familiar, yes, but it's not enough and there's still the mana issue.  It's just not worth it.  Not even one copy.  I'd much sooner take Lobotomy.  If you stretch this deck to include the Specter, take out Warped Devotion.  It's a different deck.

By the way, this isn't the deck I intend to take to States.  I don't have the cards and I no longer have the time or money to procure them.  Besides, the deck I will be playing is probably at least as good.

Switching gears, the contest from last week's article has ended.  Twice.  Sorry, folks, but it's too late.  If you email me now, please let it be comments or opinions on the articles themselves, not entries to that contest.

I had failed to notice my poor wording of the restrictions on that contest, by the way.  I meant to say that it needs to be able to win with Battle of Wits' triggered ability, not just win with Battle of Wits.  I've gotten a number of entries from those who would like to play Opalescence and win by attacking with Battle of Wits.  Cute.  Well, unfortunately the very first entry was of this sort, and since it technically should win, I'll give him the prize.  I've also offered a secondary prize to the first person who sent me in a decklist which was what I was looking for, but that fellow has declined.

Moving on yet again, I found the asterisk line deleted from my last article.  Apparently the editor doesn't like it.  Alright, then…


Don't you love biting the hand that feeds you?

Mental Magic

When playing mental Magic, you'll need piles of cards, preferably with very few lands, to act as decks.  These can, and often are, random.  You could booster draft, if you're so inclined, but that would be odd.  Most commonly it's done in Pack Wars style, where you simply play a pack or two as they are opened.  You could use it as a constructed format also.

When playing Mental Magic, any card may be played as a Painless City of Brass, that is a non-basic land with the ability, "T: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool."  You may also play any card as any other card with the same mana cost (colored mana symbols must match, as well as the amount of colorless).  This means you may play no card as itself.  Oh, and one more rule, once a card has been played as card X, no player may play a card as card X for the remainder of the game.  This means that as soon as I play a Boomerang, stating that it is a Counterspell, you may not play your Phantasmal Terrain as a Counterspell.

This a very fun format, though quite skill-intensive.  To be good at it you must know MANY cards, so this isn't a good format for beginners.  If you're allowed to pick whatever booster you're playing with, or it's constructed (that would be rather funny), stay away from Invasion Block, particularly Apocalypse.  The reason being that few cards share their mana costs.  If there is a power card that would be good for anyone, try to be the first to play it.  For instance, if you have something with one blue mana as its cost, Ancestral Recall might not be a bad choice.  Fact or Fiction is insane in this format, because your opponent's split has to be based upon what they think you will play those cards as.

The interesting thing about this format is that despite the fact that you typically aren't building decks, it helps your deckbuilding skills.  If you get good at this format, then you are good at deciding what the best card to play in any given situation will be.  If you can then get a handle on what situations will be common in a given field, you will be able to build decks well-suited to that field.

Anyone who can play Magic and has access to cards can play this format.  If you want to get good at Magic, I would recommend it.  Highly polar in popularity, you'll find those who hate the format and those, like me, who love it.  If you haven't tried it, there's only one way to find out where you stand.

Until next time,

May you find what you seek.

John B. Turpish

Copyright 2001

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