Do you remember devotion? It was a mechanic that used to have a huge impact on Standard. No kidding. It was crazy because it encouraged you to just play one color, and that meant you could play stuff like basic lands! I mean… just check out all the basics in this standard Pro Tour top 8.  There are a hundred basics in just eight decks!!

You know what cards are still legal in Standard right now? Master of Waves. Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. Thassa, God of the Sea. Grey Merchant of Asphodel. What happened to these once-proud format staples?

Obviously, Khans of Tarkir had a gigantic impact. In addition to the power-level boost given to cards that have three colors of mana in their mana cost, a lot of the great support cards for devotion strategies cycled out of the environment just as a set that discouraged devotion cycled in — and Khans, of course, offered few cards that fed devotion strategies.

Fate Reforged didn’t change much immediately, but it may have an impact yet. A couple of interesting mono-color strategies have started to pop up in Standard after months of Abzan, Jeskai, and Sultai decks dominating the headlines with the occasional two-color deck cropping up: most notably Red/White strategies featuring Chained to the Rocks.

Still, the current Boros just feels like a Jeskai deck in disguise. Standard needs fresh ideas, and basic lands have been neglected for too long!

Enter Antonino De Rosa:

Antonino's Dark Deal

Spells (30)
Dark Deal
Rakshasa’s Secret
Sign in Blood
Treasure Cruise
Waste Not
Bile Blight
Empty the Pits
Hero’s Downfall

Creatures (7)
Gurmag Angler
Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Lands (23)
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Bloodstained Mire
Polluted Delta
Temple of Deceit
Dismal Backwater

Ok, maybe not completely mono-color: this is more reminiscent of the old Blue Devotion decks that splashed white: but it’s almost mono-color! Regardless, it’s doing something very different from the rest of the format. I learned of it on Sunday at GP Vancouver, and when I got stuck in the airport on Monday I fired up Modo to give it a try. My first opponent? A mirror match. I’m not the only one who got excited about it, I guess.

The deck is very fun to play: turn two Waste Not into turn three Dark Deal is crazy: usually you get a little of everything: extra cards, mana, and zombies, and you draw more discard that you can use right away because of the mana. Those games are hard to lose.

Of course, if you don’t have that draw, the deck kind of sputters. It has a bunch of cards that do basically nothing once your opponent empties their hand, and the cards that actually impact the board are pretty limited. Gurmag Angler is an excellent size for the format, but he’s carrying an awfully heavy load for a vanilla creature.

That said, I turned in a winning record over six or seven matches in the Modo two-man queues. I started to experiment with bounce effects: with so much discard, Void Snare is practically Utter End! However, good removal isn’t really this deck’s problem.

Ultimately, this strategy is probably too inconsistent for primetime play, but it does highlight the fact that there are almost always exciting interactions hiding in standard, waiting to be discovered. Perhaps there is a different shell of cards that can wrap around Waste Not and Dark Deal to reduce the reliance on the first three turns of the game. Maybe we can find a way to get five devotion again, and Thassa can try her bident out on some rhinos. Did you know Master of Waves has protection from red? That’s crazy.

I’m hopeful about where Standard is going for the first time in a while. I’ve never been the creative deckbuilder type, but we have to have something out there that can mix up a format where everyone is just tapping three to six mana to cast the most powerful rare or mythic in their hand, right? Right?

Gabe Carleton-Barnes has been playing Magic for over 20 years, mostly as a PTQ grinder and intermittently as a Pro Tour competitor. Currently based in Portland, Oregon, where he is an Open Source web developer by day, Gabe lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for three years. While there, he failed to make a documentary about competitive Magic but succeeded in deepening his obsession with the game. Gabe is now a ringleader and community-builder for the competitive Magic scene in Portland, wielding old-timey slang and tired cliches to motivate kids half his age to drive with him to tournaments.

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