Magic The Gathering Theros Set –Devotion to Darkness Intro Deck
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Release Date: 09/27/2013
Get it here: Amazon.com
Today marks the official release of the latest Magic: The Gathering set – Theros. Yesterday we previewed ten cards from the set and today we’re doing a full review of the Intro Deck Wizards sent me – Devotion into Darkness. This is a Black/Blue deck designed to get as many permanents with black skull mana symbols in play at once. That’s a pretty easy concept right? Well there is one big problem. As a dual color deck, the core concept of this deck is nipped in the bud immediately because you’re devoting a portion of your cards to a non-black colour. As well, there are only eight Blue cards in the deck and nine islands, meaning that not only are the Blue cards taking away from the core theme of the Intro Deck, but even as a dual color deck, the card ratio is terrible and the blue cards provided just don’t synergize with the black. This is similar to the problem I had with the Death Reaper deck from the Core 2014 set, except that was Black/Red rather than Blue/Black. The end result is a deck that just doesn’t work very well. The good news is the core concept of making a deck devoted to well…Devotion is a sound one and the deck has a LOT of potential if you just excise out Blue and go for a monochromatic deck instead. We’ll now take a look at the cards in the deck and see what is worth keeping so that you can have a more effective version of Devotion to Darkness to use against your friends.
If you’re new to the concept of Devotion, remember you are trying to get as many of a particular Mana Symbol in play as possible. Only permanents count, so Instants aren’t of help in this case. So you want to line your deck with a lot of creatures, the rare sorcery, and enchantments. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have ANY enchantments. For example if you wanted to do a proper Blue/Black deck, I’d strongly recommend counterspells to keep your permanents alive, especially since the crux of this deck is a black creature. However, remember that each blue card you put in this deck detracts from the core theme, so it is best to stay pure black with Devotion to Darkness.
First up is land. You have 25 of these – sixteen swamp and nine islands. Obviously, that’s way too any islands for the dual aspect of this deck since there are only eight Blue cards in the deck. I’d change the ratio to twenty swamp and no islands. Then I’d but the remaining five cards into useable low cost black spells. Oh how I wish Dark Ritual and Breeding Pit were still around as they would just MAKE this deck.
First let’s look at our only enchantment in this deck. It’s a blue card called Ordeal of Thassa. For 1U, an enchanted creature gets +1/+1 each time it attacks. These bonuses stack until you hit +4/+4 and then you have to sacrifice the enchantment and draw two cards. This is just not very helpful as this is meant to be a long game deck. Sure it raises the stats of one of your creatures, but it also eventually kills itself and the idea is to keep your permanents in play as long as possible to keep that Devotion rating up. Something like Unholy Stength would be better as it only costs B, it gives you a permanent +2/+1 bonus and it adds to your devotion pool. Otherwise if you want to go pure Theros there are some great Enchantment Creatures to try out. These cards can be played as either a creature or an enchantment, and if you do the latter and the creature it is enchanting dies, it becomes a creature, so you still have some monster in play. I would consider something like Baleful Eidolon. It’s only two mana like Ordeal of Thassa, but it’s 1B, thus increasing your devition. It’s a 1/1 Black creature with Deathtouch, which is a nice deal as it makes a super effective blocker and you can use it as an enchantment to give another creature +1/+1 and deathtouch. Other fine options would be a Cavern Lampad (2/2 Enchantment Creature with Intimidate) or Erebos’s (bad grammatical typo in that card) Emissary, which is a 3/3 creature. So yeah. Nix Ordeal and find yourself one of many other, better low cost Black enchantments.
Next up, let’s look at the six Sorcery cards in this deck. You have three Blue and Three Black. None of the Blue cards work for me thematically with Devotion to Darkness. Two are Glimpse the Future. For 2U, you can look at the top three cards in your library. You put one in your hand and two in your graveyard. Nope. The idea here is to have as many Black permanents as possible in play, not in your graveyard. Yes there are ways to recycle your graveyard in this deck, which is great, but there are better black options than this. I mean, what if you face the equivalent of a millstone deck? Glimpse the Future is just NOT a good choice for this deck. The other Blue Sorcery is Sea God’s Revenger. It costs 5U and it has two effects. The first is to return up to three target creatures controlled by your opponent(s) to their hard and you get to Scry the top card in your library. This is a bit pricey for the effect (Unsummon is only a single Blue mana after all…) and again, you could find something better in black that increases your devotion and would be cheaper. Two of the three Black Sorceries in this deck are Sip of Hemlock. For 4BB, you can destroy any target creature. The controller of that creature then loses two life. Not bad. You get direct damage AND wipe out a creature. The final Sorcery is March of the Returned. For 3B, you can take any two creature cards from your graveyard and return them to your hand. I’d actually put several more of these into your deck. That way you can constantly summon your best creatures, especially those who devotion effects that have been lost somehow. Dump the Blue cards, and put between one to three more of these into your deck.
Next up are the Instants, which may seem odd for a deck that is supposed to be all about Black permanents, but Instants always have their place in a deck. In this case we have six Instants. Two are Blue and Four are black. Not surprisingly the two Blue aren’t very good, which is a shame because Blue and Green are the best colors in Theros (in my opinion). So I’m shocked at how the blue in this deck isn’t even half-assed. It’s more like thirded or fourthed assed. Griptide puts a target creature on the top of its owner’s library for a whopping 3U! Just…no. This is a terrible card- for this deck anyway. Voyages End is similar in that it returns a target creature, but to the owner’s hand instead of its library. You also get to Scry. All this for only 1U. Voyage’s End is a nice card but again…not for this deck. You don’t really need to Scry here and there are better Instants to be had. First up is Book of Erebos. For B, you regenerate a creature and it gets +2/+0 until the end of the turn. Not bad except when you notice you lose 2 life(!) for casting this? Man, that’s a terrible card. Sure it has some uses, like for Heroic enabling, but there isn’t any form of Heroic in this deck. Bleck. Next is Pharika’s Cure and I love this. For BB, you do 2 damage to any creature and gain 2 life. This is cheap and versatile. You can use it in the early game to whittle down your opponent’s first creatures. You can use it to do damage to a large creature you couldn’t otherwise kill and you can use it as a nice spree of damage to buff up your health pool. I’d consider putting a few of these in this deck if you are sticking strictly to Theros cards. Next up is Lash of the Whip. It costs 4B and gives a creature -4/-4 until the end of the turn. It’s limited and expensive, but in the right situation can really takedown a big Creature. Still, this is yet another underwhelming Instant in this deck. Finally we have Rescue From the Underworld, which is one of the ten cards we looked at in yesterday’s preview. I loved it then, I love it now and it is wonderful in this deck. For 4B and a sacrificed creature, you can pick any one creature card from your graveyard. Then on your next upkeep, the chosen card AND THE SACRIFICED CARD come directly onto the battlefield under your control. So really, you’re not sacrificing but removing a creature for a turn. Think of this combo. Play Rescue from the Underworld, then play a card that destroys all creatures like Damnation or Decree of Pain. Your opponent has no creatures left. You however get TWO at the beginning of your next upkeep before you play anything from your hand. NIIIIIICE. Another good option would be to add Hythonia the Cruel to this deck as you would then have THREE creatures to your opponent’s lack of anything. So yes, I would load up this deck with Rescue From the Underworld if you really want Instants and especially if you are going straight Theros.
Now it’s time for Artifacts. We have two of them in this deck. The first is Witches’ Eye. It costs only1 mana to bring this into play and a further 1 colorless to have a creature equip it. This creature now gets 1, Tap: Scry 1. Meh. It’s a cheap artifact and it’s well designed, but you don’t need it for this deck at all. Hell, an Ornithopter might be more useful. I’d dump this for pretty much anything else. The other Artifact is Whip of Erebos and it’s nice to have if only because it’s an Artifact that needs Black Mana (and thus raises your Devotion) rather than colorless. Whip of Erebos requires 2BB and it gives ALL your creatures Lifelink. That’s pretty freaking nice right there, especially with the number of creatures in this deck. However there is still more. For 2BB and a tap you can return a target creature from your graveyard onto the battlefield and it gains haste. It gets exiled at your next end turn, but it’s a nice way to bring a heavy hitter back for a one-shot. Now you can only use this aspect of Whip of Erebos when you play a Sorcery and there are only six in this deck so don’t expect this short resurrection power to come into play too often, but the Whip is still worth keeping for the lifelink and the fact it adds to your devotion count.
Finally we come to the creature part of this deck which is where you really see how Devotion works here. There are a whopping TWENTY creatures in this deck, eighteen of which are black. Let’s get rid of the two Blue cards first. Horizon Scholars are 4/4 fliers for 5U. That’s not horrible. You also get to Scry the first two cards of your deck when they come into play. In a Blue deck or a proper Blue/Black, I’d consider keeping these. Not here though. If you really want to go U/B I’d replace these with Shipwreck Singers. They are cheaper, they add to your Devotion and have neat abilities. Otherwise if you want to go straight Theros, Returned Centaurs aren’t a bad choice. 3B for 2/4 creatures that add to your Devotion and millstone the top four cards off an opponent’s library into their graveyard.
Two of the Black creatures are Returned Phalanx. For 1B you get a 3/3 Defender. That’s a nice little wall. If you spend 1U, Returned Phalanx can attack as if it didn’t have Defender. In a regular Blue/Black deck, this might be an okay choice. For a Devotion deck where we need to excise out the Blue, it’s obvious these have to go. Another two cards I’d dump from this deck are the Blood-Toll Haripes. They’re a 2/1 flier that costs 2B. Ouch. That’s pricey. It’s worse when you realize every player loses a life when one of these comes onto the Battlefield. However the amount of Lifelink in this deck means continually returning Blood-Toll Harpies to the field will slowly whittle away your opponent’s life before yours runs out, but it’s a very dangerous strategy to attempt. Speaking of Lifelink. Two Harpy card I would keep from this deck are the Insatiable Harpies. 2BB for a 2/2 Flier with Lifelink. So not only do you get two points of Devotion with these, but you get a decent low powered flier. Anoth pair of Lifelink based creatures in this deck are the Children of Night. Each of these vampires is a 2/1 creature with Lifelink and they only cost 1B. These aren’t a bad choice to leave in, especially if you draw them early on. Finally, we have three Minotaurs to look at before we move on to the Devotion based card. Two of these Minotaurs are Undead Minotaurs. They are a straight forward 2/3 for 2B. That’s neither bad nor good – it’s decent filler creatures to pad the deck. The other Minotaur is a Minotaur Abomination. 4/6 for 4BB. The cost fits the stats, especially when you remember this card gives you two points of Devotion. No doubt we can all find better Black creatures to put into this deck though.
Now we come to the cards that actually use Devotion – the ones the entire deck is meant to be based around. There are seven creatures that use devotion, but I have to empathically state if you decide to use this deck, you need to track down a copy of an eighth: Erebos, God of the Dead. You need to buy it separately but he’s indestructible, prevents your opponents from gaining any life and is a general all around bad ass that channels devotion wonderfully. Get it. Now let’s look at the big seven.
First up are two Disciples of Phenax. You’re paying 2BB for a 1/3 creature. SLIGHLY pricey, am I right? But look what its Devotion ability does. When one of these Clerics comes into play, your opponent must reveal a number of cards equal to your Devotion Rating. Then you pick one of those cards and make them discard it. Nice. Especially if you continually bring these guys back from the graveyard. One great trick is to recycle them and you have mini hypnotic specters at your disposal that don’t even have to attack. Just use them to block and die and bring them back over and over again. Another two of the seven Devotion cards are Gray Merchant of Asphodel. You pay 2BB for a 2/4 zombie. Eh, right? Wait until you see the Devotion ability. When a Gray Merchant comes into play, each opponent loses your devotion rating in life. So in a late stage game, you can outright kill your opponent by summoning this, sacrificing it and bringing it back via say, Rescue From the Underworld. You want it to get crazier? Use Rescue From the Underworld by sacrificing the second grey Merchant to the first. Next turn, your opponent is taking life loss from both. If you only have say, five devotion points, that’s ten damage right therem and trust me, you will have FAR MORE THAN FIVE POINTS. These are two fine cards. There are so many uses for these. The fifth and sixth Devotion based cards are Mogis’s Marauder. Despite the second grammatical error in this set, this is a fine card indeed. For 2B, you get a 2/2 creature. That’s standard. However, the devotion text makes this awesome. Whenever the Marauder enters the battlefield, a number of creatures you controlequal to your Devotion rating gain haste and intimidate. Crazy.
This all brings us to Abhorrent Overlord which is a Lord of the Pit and a Breeding Pit in one card. 5BB for a 6/6 Flier. You have to sacrifice a creature every upkeep while this card is in play, but that’s okay because when Abhorrent Overlord comes into play, you get a 1/1 fliying harpy token for each point of devotion. So, if you have five devotion points, you get the Overlord and five 1/1 fliers. Now imagine the following combo. You bring Overlord into play with a devotion of 5. So you have 5/5 fliers. Then you sacrifice the Overlord to bring a Gray Merchant out of your graveyard with Return from the Underworld. Next upkeep you get the Overlord back, ANOTHER five 1/1 flier tokens and your opponent takes 5 damage. Holy crap are the combos with Devotion amazing. Just looking at these seven cards and hunting down Erebos, shows you the power of Devotion and why this deck has so much potential once you make it a monochrome deck. So yes, I’m hard on this deck in some ways, but trust me when I also say I love this thing at the same time.
So what else should you add to this deck if you’re going straight black? Keepsake Gorgon is a good investment as a blocker and a way to whittle down your opponent’s army. Grave Pact is amazing with this deck, especially if you have one or more Overlords. If you design the deck right, Dark Prophecy might be a good call. Phyrexian Obliterator is almost a must have for a devotion deck. Geralf’s Messenger works well with this deck too. One absolute MUST HAVE from the current Core 2014 set for this deck is Corrupt. Oh my god, multiples of that PLEASE.
Basically with the right combos, especially insane use of the Gray Merchants, which are arguably the most powerful common card produced for the game in many years, we just might be having ourselves a Black Winter similar to the Black Summer ancients ones like myself remember when Ice Age was release. Devotion to Darkness is certainly worth getting as there are some amazing cards and crazy combinations here to be had, but to truly make it work, you are going to have to pick up a decent amount of supplement material to replace the scads of crap in this deck.