Captain’s Log #12 – Lucky Numbers

I am on the plane from Detroit to Montreal as I write this. All in all, despite not repeating our collective success at Grand Prix Vancouver, I had an extremely fun-filled weekend with two of my best Magic friends in Alexander Hayne and Jon Stern.

Above the Sky
Above the Sky

For the past few weeks, I had been wanting to write an article on everything that has been going on in my Magic life, but things like planning the many ManaDeprived events for Grand Prix Montreal got in the way.

For this article, I am going to focus mainly on Standard and the new technology my team came up with for the Mono Black Devotion deck. Of course, I am also going to talk a bit about the awesome time I had in Cincinnati with one Jonathan Medina because that guy is totally legit, DUDE.

Post-PTQ Thoughts

Two weeks ago, I played in a PTQ in Toronto. Despite constantly thinking Mono Black Devotion was no longer as strong as it once was, it was still my weapon of choice as it was the deck I was most familiar with. After all, I finished 11th at Grand Prix Vancouver with it.

Here’s the list I registered:

[deck title=Mono Black Devotion]
[Lands]
4 Mutavault
18 Swamp
4 Temple of Deceit
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
4 Desecration Demon
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
4 Nightveil Specter
4 Pack Rat
[/Creatures]
[Other Spells]
2 Bile Blight
2 Devour Flesh
4 Hero’s Downfall
4 Thoughtseize
2 Ultimate Price
4 Underworld Connections
[/Other Spells]
[Sideboard]
2 Bile Blight
2 Dark Betrayal
1 Doom Blade
3 Duress
3 Erebos, God of the Dead
4 Lifebane Zombie
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

I did not do so hot, dropping the tournament with a record of 2-3. Usually I would have played every round of the tournament but there was a Standard side event where the winner would be receiving a Modern Masters box, so I decided to sign myself up for that.

I started the tournament off with four straight wins, locked up top seed, but ultimately lost my first elimination match to Uw Devotion. Uw Devotion was also one of my losses during the main event courtesy of Mike Vasovski.

One of the lessons I took away from this PTQ was that if Uw Devotion was going to become a major force in the metagame, Mono Black Devotion would then certainly become a poorer deck choice for future tournaments. Splashing white for [card]Revoke Existence[/card] or splashing green for [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] would become a necessary adjustment in my opinion.

I would also like to say that from my perspective as the Mono Black player, I did not find Ephara too impressive. I am reading many articles where authors share the same view, suggesting versions of the deck that only include one copy of the blue-white God.


Another takeaway for me was that I was starting to dislike Erebos as a sideboard card. This is because control decks have learned to adopt [card]Revoke Existence[/card] as a solution from Born of the Gods.

There’s also the fact that it is a challenge to get Erebos to become a creature against the splash versions of Mono Black. In all of these Black-based showdowns, a lot of removal is being brought in by both sides for the post-sideboard games. That is why in the straight mirror, [card]Underworld Connections[/card] is the card that is able to provide the devotion needed for Erebos to attack, but against splash versions of Mono Black, Connections might not have the luxury of sticking around when it hits play.

The PTQ didn’t go as planned but Scott MacCallum still made it one heck of a weekend for me, letting William Blondon and I stay at his place. I think he’s got the cutest daughter and I will admit that I absolutely love how instead of calling me KYT, she calls me T-Rex.

Grand Prix Cincinnati

I wasn’t planning to go to Grand Prix Cincinnati but Alex started telling me how cheap the flights were and top of that, Jonathan Medina offered us a place to stay in Ohio. Medina has been a big part of my Magic life, so I wasn’t about to turn down an opportunity to spend time with him in person.

Scry Seven

On the way to the venue from the airport, Alex questioned Jon and I on the number of scry lands we planned to play in the main event as he felt it was something that Mono Black Devotion players didn’t really bother to analyze. He desperately wanted the two of us to play exactly seven scry lands.

I’ve actually asked people about this topic before but the answers were never backed by any real testing and no one I know ever brought up the idea of playing seven in Mono Black. Everyone just felt for whatever reason that the ideal number of scry lands was between four and five.

The problem with testing with Alex is that he is a master troll to anyone he is fond of. Or perhaps to anyone period. I had to ask him repeatedly if he was being serious in his recommendation of seven scry lands for the Mono Black deck.

When we arrived at the venue, Shahar Shenhar sat down to discuss Mono Black with Jon and Dan Lanthier. I sat to the side, laying out the number of scry lands I was potentially going to be playing at the main event.

“Seven? This is a joke right?” – Dan Lanthier

It had to be a joke, right? One of the most ideal starts from the Mono Black deck is to be able to go turn one [card]Thoughtseize[/card], turn two [card]Pack Rat[/card] followed by playing a third untapped land in order to make a Rat token.

But Alex reminded me of all the times that the Mono Black deck can tend to flood out due to its high number of lands. It does play twenty-six and recent decklists I have seen online have decided to go down to twenty-five. Playing more scry lands would allow us to find [card]Underworld Connections[/card] faster than our opponents in the mirror and it gives us a higher chance of finding threats against the control decks.

When we got back to Medina’s house Friday night, Jon and I decided to test the scry lands idea. Jon had the idea of testing the deck with eight so that we could get a better feel of how much the tap lands could hurt. He had me pilot the Jund Monsters deck as it is one of the more aggressive decks in the format. He soundly beat me 7-1 and I just couldn’t believe it. I actually had good hands in some of the games, but it’s like he was able to somehow find the right answer every single time…

-light bulb-

Alex jumped in to help out by piloting the Mono Blue deck against Mono Black. After another set of games, all Jon had was praise for the scry lands to the point of actually feeling like eight might be the right number and not seven.

Ultimately, to better figure out how many scry lands we wanted, Jon created a spreadsheet to see the odds of getting X scry lands in our opening hand based on how many copies existed in our deck. As it turns out, even if it was just a number Alex came up with on the spot, seven gave us the highest chance of having specifically one scry land in our first eight cards of a game.

Testing at Medina's
Testing at Medina’s

After discussing the deck with Jon, I decided I would play his 75 because he shared my opinion on essentially every aspect of the deck (e.g., not cutting [card]Nightveil Specter[/card]s, not being as high on Erebos as other Mono Black pilots).

Here is the 75 Jon Stern put together:

[deck title=Mono Black Devotion v7]
[Lands]
4 Mutavault
15 Swamp
4 Temple of Silence
3 Temple of Deceit
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
4 Desecration Demon
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
2 Lifebane Zombie
4 Nightveil Specter
4 Pack Rat
[/Creatures]
[Other Spells]
3 Devour Flesh
4 Hero’s Downfall
1 Pharika’s Cure
4 Thoughtseize
4 Underworld Connections
[/Other Spells]
[Sideboard]
2 Dark Betrayal
1 Devour Flesh
1 Doom Blade
4 Duress
2 Erebos, God of the Dead
2 Lifebane Zombie
2 Pharika’s Cure
1 Ultimate Price
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

One of the other more glaring aspects of Jon’s list is the fact that it plays zero copies of [card]Bile Blight[/card]. Playing zero copies was an idea I suggested when the three of us first arrived in Cincinnati. It’s not very good against the Monsters deck and in the mirror, your opponent is going to respect [card]Bile Blight[/card] regardless of whether you actually have it in your hand or not.

It was also on my mind that the RW Burn deck would be popular at this event. The exact eight creature version popularized by James Fazzolari was picking up steam. I’ve seen multiple copies of that deck finish well in tournaments and against that deck, [card]Pharika’s Cure[/card] can be a more powerful tool.

However, both Jon and I lost a game during the Grand Prix because we didn’t have access to [card]Bile Blight[/card] in the mirror. On the other side of the coin, we also both won games were [card]Pharika’s Cure[/card] saved us against Burn. If I were going to Grand Prix Phoenix, I’d be looking to fit both in somehow.

I have to give special shout-outs to Matthew Ratajczak and Alex Bianchi. I had actually forgotten to bring my Mono Black deck to Cincinnati and these guys came through big time for me by making another copy out of the cards they owned.

Jon’s Playbook

As I have written about him before, Jon is a preparation fanatic and for all of you looking to play this deck in a tournament, I have decided to publish his sideboarding playbook right here.

The mirror

Out:
[draft]
4 Desecration Demon
2 Hero’s Downfall
2 Lifebane Zombie
1 Pharika’s Cure
[/draft]

In:
[draft]
2 Dark Betrayal
1 Devour Flesh
3 Duress
2 Erebos, God of the Dead
1 Ultimate Price
[/draft]

Orzhov Midrange

Out:
[draft]
4 Desecration Demon
4 Hero’s Downfall
1 Pharika’s Cure
[/draft]

In:
[draft]
2 Dark Betrayal
1 Devour Flesh
2 Duress
2 Erebos, God of the Dead
2 Lifebane Zombie
[/draft]

UW/Esper

Out:
[draft]
2 Desecration Demon
3 Devour Flesh
2 Hero’s Downfall
1 Pharika’s Cure
[/draft]

In:
[draft]
4 Duress
2 Erebos, God of the Dead
2 Lifebane Zombie
[/draft]

RG/Jund Monsters

Out:
[draft]
1 Pharika’s Cure
4 Underworld Connections
[/draft]

In:
[draft]
1 Devour Flesh
1 Doom Blade
2 Lifebane Zombie
1 Ultimate Price
[/draft]

Burn

Out:
[draft]
4 Hero’s Downfall
3 Thoughtseize
4 Underworld Connections
[/draft]

In:
[draft]
1 Devour Flesh
1 Doom Blade
4 Duress
2 Lifebane Zombie
2 Pharika’s Cure
1 Ultimate Price
[/draft]

Mono Blue Devotion (on the play)

Out:
[draft]
2 Lifebane Zombie
4 Underworld Connections
[/draft]

In:
[draft]
1 Devour Flesh
1 Doom Blade
1 Duress
2 Pharika’s Cure
1 Ultimate Price
[/draft]

Mono Blue Devotion (on the draw)

Out:
[draft]
4 Pack Rat
4 Underworld Connections
[/draft]

In:
[draft]
1 Dark Betrayal
1 Devour Flesh
1 Doom Blade
1 Duress
1 Lifebane Zombie
2 Pharika’s Cure
1 Ultimate Price
[/draft]

Hexproof

Out:
[draft]
4 Hero’s Downfall
3 Underworld Connections
1 Pharika’s Cure
[/draft]

In:
[draft]
1 Devour Flesh
4 Duress
1 Doom Blade
2 Lifebane Zombie
[/draft]

Slaughter Games

A few of you might want to ask me what I think of the different splash versions of Mono Black. The red splash for [card]Slaughter Games[/card] was a popular choice for this weekend as from what I hear, Team ChannelFireball members and Shahar ended up selecting that specific version as their weapon of choice. Jon and I just didn’t hate the control matchup that much and we really didn’t like having to twist our mana base to accommodate the red cards.

Number 13

I ended the tournament at 6-3 at the end of Day One, losing to two mirrors and Mono Red Aggro. Jon made Day Two with a record of 8-1 but he was 2-3 on Day Two before conceding to LSV in the last round. Neglecting byes, our list had a collective record of 11-7 (61%). Nothing too impressive, but we remain pleased with the deck we piloted. Moving forward, both of us are more likely to play seven scry lands than four in Mono Black Devotion. You win, Alex, you win.

Since my Grand Prix streak of making Day Two nine times in a row snapped, I played in the Super Sunday Series (Sealed). My pool was average but I was able to start things off at 5-0 largely due to play errors from my opponents. I proceeded to 0-3 before winning my last round.

Due to my results in Grand Prix Vancouver (11th) and Grand Prix Montreal (12th), many of my friends made the joke that I would finish 13th at Grand Prix Cincinnati. Well, I did, but in the Sunday Super Series…

After collecting my prize from the Sunday Super Series, Alex, Jon, and I went back to Medina’s house that night to drown our sorrows over games of Ascension. It was a huge bummer to see Alex finish 9th after such a strong start.

Playing Ascension
Playing Ascension

Steak ‘n Shake

Best Place on Earth
Best Place on Earth

Steak ‘n Shake was one of the bigger revelations for Alex, Jon, and I this past weekend. A lot of people love to joke about how Americans are fat because they serve delicious unhealthy food at a cheap price, but to a Canadian, an amazing burger for $4 is a concept that is inconceivable.

Of course, the service is slower than snails and the fries taste like utter garbage, but we loved the place so much we actually ate there Saturday night AND Sunday night. Jon was opposed to any criticism I had for his new Best Place on Earth. I got the Royale burger both times because for whatever reason, I have a thing for burgers that come with a fried egg.

The Grind Continues

Despite my disappointing performance, it’s already time to get back on the saddle for another chance to qualify for the Pro Tour. This weekend, FacetoFaceGames is hosting a PTQ in Montreal, so I plan to port over some of the success I had in Limited at Grand Prix Montreal to this tournament.

Grand Prix Cincinnati will always be a fond memory. I got to hang out with THE Jonathan Medina, who was a host and a half for us. I had missed him tremendously since his departure from the game and re-experiencing the chemistry we shared was indescribable. Seeing Mark Sun again was a welcome treat as well.

I also got to spend time with Alex and Jon which is a less frequent occasion these days as they are usually spending their time flying around slaying Magic tournaments. How long will it take for me to join them?

The Canadian Trio
The Canadian Trio

As always, thanks for reading!

KYT
@kytmagic