Staying Devoted in Vancouver: how I lost the F2F Open+ finals

Ask anyone on the West Coast and they’ll tell you that sometimes we feel starved for big events in Magic. 

We’re granted only a few opportunities every year to get out there and test ourselves against the rest of the field. In Vancouver there is one event in particular, that we look forward to every year — F2F’s Modern Open. It always comes with a great venue, stacked cast of judges and a healthy prize pool. My very first modern event at anything beyond the FNM level was actually F2F Vancouver 2017, an event where I ran hotter than the sun and managed to pilot Knightfall to a second place finish.

With that in mind, it was no surprise that the announcement of the F2F Vancouver Open+ granting a Players Tour invite had both the community and myself excited. Since my second place finish I’ve played everything from Knightfall, Counters Company, Spirits and finally Devoted Combo. You could say I’m a fan of [Card]Temple Garden[/Card]. For the last while I’ve been putting up consistent results on the many flavors of Devoted Combo, but I knew if I was going to win this Players Tour invite I needed to innovate the list even further. 

At it’s core Devoted Combo is a linear combo deck with a backup beat down plan. Over the last few years since [Card]Vizier of Remedies[/Card] joined Modern, the archetype has actually received a ton of additions. [Card]Once Upon a Time[/Card], [Card]Eladamri’s Call[/Card] and [Card]Giver of Runes[/Card] have been incredible, and only pushed the deck’s consistency further. Currently I believe the deck is best built as a hyper linear combo deck that can morph after-board into more of an attrition deck to beat the deck’s worst matchups. Highly interactive decks such as: Grixis [Card]Death’s Shadow[/Card], Jund and Burn.

Inspired by First Strike’s very own Elliot Fortier, I decided to try my hand at [Card]Simian Spirit Guide[/Card]. It proved brilliant for the strategy, and allowed me to steal many games with turn one [Card]Devoted Druid[/Card]s. I also always preach that increasing your ability to cast turn two [Card]Devoted Druid[/Card] is super important for the strategy, [Card]Simian Spirit Guide[/Card] allowed me to lead on [Card]Noble Hierarch[/Card] and use either [Card]Eladamri’s Call[/Card] or [Card]Finale of Devastation[/Card] and a second land to put a [Card]Devoted Druid[/Card] into play on turn two. Satisfied with the addition of the Mana Monkeys I submitted the following:

[Deck Title= Second Place, Bant Devoted Druid – Paul de Blois]
[Creatures]
4 Noble Hierarch
4 Giver of Runes
4 Simian Spirit Guide
4 Devoted Druid
4 Vizier of Remedies
1 Walking Ballista
1 Ranger Captain of Eos
2 Shalai, Voice of Plenty
1 Duskwatch Recruiter
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Once Upon a Time
4 Eladamri’s Call
4 Finale of Devestation
4 Postmortem Lunge
[/Spells]
[Lands]
4 Horizon Canopy
1 Temple Garden
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Breeding Pool
1 Forest
1 Plains
4 Windswept Heath
2 Misty Rainforest
4 Razorverge Thicket
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
4 Oko, Thief of Crowns
4 Veil of Summer
2 Path to Exile
1 Gaddock Teeg
1 Collector Ouphe
1 Knight of Autumn
1 Burrenton Forge-Tender
1 Scavenging Ooze
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

Notably missing from this list was Elliot’s board strategy in [Card]Chalice of the Void[/Card]. I believed that the card had too much friction with the rest of our list, and personally I didn’t have the time for testing it as extensively as I would’ve liked. I instead went with an [Card]Oko, Thief of Crowns[/Card] package that would check both hate cards and threats, as well as provide a steady stream of attackers against the more interactive decks I previously mentioned. With my plans laid out, and my list sleeved, I prepared myself for my first round in what would turn out to be an incredible tournament run. 

Without making this a tournament report I’ll summarize that I went 6-0-2 in swiss, facing in order: Jeskai Control, Devoted Combo, GDS, Affinity, Jund and Infect. I then had a line up of Simic Urza, GDS and finally Eldrazi Tron in the Top 8.  Despite hitting three matchups I consider poor, my prepped board strategy and familiarity to the archetype led me to some very close wins. 

I believe that preparation and proper heuristics can carry you very far in any competitive setting, but in Magic I believe adaptation is of the utmost importance. Your opponent sitting across from you has their own set of preparations and heuristics they’re bringing to the match. You can learn a lot from them in a small window of time if you pay attention to the details, and by sticking to the same archetype, it’s something I’ve learned to do well. Devoted Combo primarily cares about interaction and hate pieces from your opponent’s deck. Against most non-interactive decks, especially with the inclusion of [Card]Simian Spirit Guide[/Card], I believe we’re favoured to win a race. Against interactive matchups like the ones I mentioned, Jeskai, GDS, and Jund, we’re looking to outmaneuver the opponents removal. Every match during the day I kept this in mind, but I constantly adapted on it to improve my odds of winning a match. 

As an example I’d like to highlight my Grixis Shadow opponent. He expressed his concern, in an offhand comment, about the ineffectiveness of [Card]Stubborn Denial[/Card] against my many mana creatures. Personally I believe that Stubborn is one of the most effective cards against me due to it’s ability to gain tempo against cards like [Card]Finale of Devastation[/Card], as well as checking boarded planeswalkers. Due to this comment, I didn’t trim two to four copies of Finale as I normally would, and decided I’d keep almost any threat heavy hand rather than mulligan for a [Card]Veil of Summer[/Card]. I believe due to this change, I was able to resolve a series of Lunge + Finales to win in our post-board games. This very same player was my semifinal opponent, and I also utilized this info to confidently resolve spells into open blue mana throughout our series. 

Unfortunately when it mattered most, I was unable to adapt well enough, but it serves as a valuable lesson. We come to the finals, my last obstacle to obtaining an invite, and it’s against none other than First Strike’s Jonathan Zhang on Eldrazi Tron. Frankly I lost this match, in three games, to an absolute showcase of mulligan decisions and threat evaluation by Jonathan. He showed me in those first two games that he was willing to mulligan down to five (Both games!) to obtain the cards needed to win the match. Recognizing this I should’ve adapted to his aggressive mulliganing and boarded in my [Card]Oko, Thief of Crowns[/Card] on the draw during our last game, but I didn’t. 

Paul de Blois at F2F Vancouver.

I believe that against any [Card]Karn, the Great Creator[/Card] deck, Druid should be trying to go under it, not matching it with midrange cards, but with the prevalence of removal in his opening hands in games one and two, I had all the info I needed to adapt appropriately and give myself the best opportunity to win the match, but I didn’t. Whether it be through lack of proper practice time, fatigue from the long day, or underestimating him in the moment, I had the opportunity to recognize a pattern of strength and discipline in my opponent’s play and board accordingly, and I think it had the potential to win me the match.

So I’ve arrived again, two years later, 2nd place at a Vancouver F2F Open. Forever the bridesmaid in my local scene, and yet I feel fully fulfilled with my finish. Jonathan is a good friend, excellent competitor and humble winner so I couldn’t be happier for him and his well earned win. 

Looking forward I’ll still continue to develop this list, as the addition of [Card]Simian Spirit Guide[/Card] felt right at home with the deck’s game one strategy. I believe however, there are corrections to be made to the main deck configuration. [Card]Ranger-Captain of Eos[/Card] is an excellent card with our Postmortem Lunge lines, but the WW in the cost was at times costly to my potential for turn two kills. It may be correct to make room for as many non-white win conditions as possible, but more testing will be necessary to determine this.

It’s my hope that a small write up like this may bring even more people into the Devoted Combo life. It’s an extremely rewarding deck to play, offering many build options, and tons of unique lines that aren’t outright clear from the start. Next time you’re sleeving up in preparation for an event, consider sleeving Devoted Combo. It’s currently a fantastic meta call, and like me, you can adapt it to any situation.