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Winning a PTQ with Mono-Black Devotion

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So this past weekend, I won a PTQ in Tallahassee, Florida. I’d like to give a big shoutout to the tournament organizer, Gamescape, and its owner, Benjamin Bloodworth, for consistently putting on the best tournaments and running the best local shop I’ve ever been to in my twenty years of playing Magic.

I played Mono-Black Devotion this entire PTQ season in a total of five PTQs. This resulted in four top eights and a total record of 34-6-6. All draws were intentional. This is the most recent list I played.

Deck Discussion

Stock slots:

4 Desecration Demon
4 Pack Rat
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
4 Hero’s Downfall
4 Thoughtseize
4 Underworld Connections

I don’t think any discussion really needs to be had regarding these cards.

4 Nightveil Specter

Many lists are now running Lifebane Zombie in the main deck over Nightveil Specter. I believe this is wrong. Lifebane Zombie slightly improves matchups against decks that aren’t worth hedging against game one (ie. R/G Monsters). Specter improves our game ones against decks that we’re more even with, such as the mirror match and control variants. In addition to the impact this choice makes on game one, many lists aren’t running Specters in the sideboard to replace Zombies with in post-board games. This is a problem, especially in the mirror match, where you end up stuck with awful Zombies or light on threats after boarding them out.

3 Bile Blight
2 Devour Flesh
1 Ultimate Price

The non-Downfall main deck removal suite is pretty versatile and based mainly on metagame calls. Devour Flesh is obviously a concession to the constant threat of Blood Baron of Vizkopa. Bile Blight’s weakness against G/R Monsters should not scare you away from playing at least two in the main deck and I would recommend having access to all four post-board. Ultimate Price is better than Doom Blade. Please stop playing Doom Blade.

19 Swamp
4 Mutavault
3 Temple of Deceit

I did not play four Temples because I wanted to avoid drawing two or more of them within the first several turns of the game. Mono-Black Devotion is played as a tempo deck. Being forced to hold off a turn because a crucial land had to come into play tapped can be catastrophic. As for which Temples you should play, that is a call you’re going to have to make for whatever tournament you will be playing in.

Sideboard

Brad Nelson wrote a sideboarding article for Mono-Black Devotion on Star City Games that is much better than anything I could have written. My only disagreement is boarding in Dark Betrayal’s vs. Mono Blue for Nightveil Specter. That is crazy talk.

The PTQ

Round One – Chris Brown – G/B

Game One: I won’t be going into much detail regarding the first games of each match because it doesn’t really help you very much. I was able to win game one with a lot of rats.

Game Two: In—3x Lifebane Zombie, 1x Dark Betrayal, 1x Bile Blight, 1x Devour Flesh. Out—4x Underworld Connections, 1x Ultimate Price, 1x Nightveil Specter.

Chris was playing a G/B deck featuring Lotleth Troll, Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord, and Whip of Erebos. It seemed capable of aggressive draws and I knew he would definitely have Abrupt Decays. Underworld Connections is poor versus aggressive decks and Lifebane Zombie would be capable of hitting almost every creature I saw game one. I lost game two to a large Lotleth Troll that was flung at my face by Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord.

Game Three: There was a lot of removal back and forth, but he eventually ran out of non-land resources and I was able to seal the win before he was able to come back with a late Whip of Erebos.

1-0

Round Two – Kevin Stoiber – B/W Midrange

Game One: I lost to a Blood Baron of Vizkopa.

Game Two: In—3x Lifebane Zombie, 2x Erebos, God of the Dead, 1x Devour Flesh, 1x Duress. Out—1x Bile Blight, 4x Desecration Demon, 1x Hero’s Downfall, 1x Ultimate Price.

Unfortunately, I do not remember much about this match other than that several large Gray Merchants were resolved.

Game Three: This was a repeat of game two.

2-0

Round Three – Stephen Mann – R/w Devotion

Game One: Hammer of Purphoros ground me out.

Game Two: In—3x Lifebane Zombie,  2x Duress, 1x Bile Blight. Out—4x Underworld Connections, 2x Devour Flesh.

Game two was a race, and he drew a few too many lands. A couple of timely Bile Blights kept me pretty far ahead with a Gray Merchant padding my life total.

Game Three: I don’t remember much of game three, but our life totals were both at five and I believe I won with Pack Rats.

3-0

Round Four – Aqueel Majied – B/W/R Midrange

Game One: A turn-one Thoughtseize revealed Mizzium Mortars, Magma Jet, Boros Reckoner, Godless Shrine, Sacred Foundry, and Temple of Triumph after he had played a turn one Temple of Silence. I had a Bile Blight for the Reckoner and both Magma Jet and Mizzium Mortars would kill the Pack Rat in my hand, so I took his options away by forcing him to discard the Magma Jet. He didn’t draw much action after that.

Game Two: In—3x Lifebane Zombie, 2x Erebos, God of the Dead. Out—1x Ultimate Price, 2x Pack Rat, 1x Bile Blight, 1x Hero’s Downfall.

I assumed he was probably playing Blood Baron of Vizkopa in his list. He ended up mulliganing to four cards and keeping a no lander.

4-0

Round Five – Zack Duke – Esper Humans/Midrange/Aggro/Control

Game One: I saw Lyev Skyknight, Soldier of the Pantheon, Daring Skyjek, Detention Sphere, Xanthrid Necromancer, and Whip of Erebos. I promptly died without drawing any removal for his 3/1 flyers.

Game Two: In—3x Lifebane Zombie, 2x Drown in Sorrow, 1x Ultimate Price, 1x Bile Blight. Out—4x Underworld Connections, 2x Devour Flesh, 1x Desecration Demon.

I saw Supreme Verdicts, Obzedat, Ghost Council, Mutavault, and Dark Betrayal. I was able to win this game without taking a point of damage.

Game Three: There was a lot of back and forth this game. My opponent resolved three Detention Spheres and a Whip of Erebos. Fortunately, all of his creatures were very small and similarly-named, so the multiple Bile Blights I drew were able to keep him from gaining too much life while Pack Rats did the work.

5-0

Round Six – Logan Rodgers

Intentional Draw

5-0-1

Round Seven – Gerald Orrison

Intentional Draw

5-0-2

This put me at third seed going into the top eight.

Top Eight Matches

Quarterfinals – Hayden Bedsole (sixth seed) – Mono-Blue Devotion

This match is on Twitch at www.twitch.tv/gamescape because Gamescape streams its feature matches.

Game One: A timely Bile Blight locked this game up.

Game Two: In—3x Lifebane Zombie, 2x Drown in Sorrow, 1x Ultimate Price, 1x Bile Blight. Out—4x Underworld Connections, 2x Devour Flesh, 1x Nightveil Specter.

Hayden’s draw seemed very good until he ran out of steam. Several turns of drawing Judge’s Familiar and lands, later he had nothing left to compete with Pack Rats.

Semifinals – Logan Rodgers (second seed) – UWb Control

This match is also on Twitch. www.twitch.tv/gamescape

Game One: I had no idea what Logan was playing. Obviously, I figured out early on that it was a variation of UW control, but I didn’t know what specific cards he was playing. My opening hand was rather weak and when it became evident that I wasn’t going to be able to win the game, my goal became to drag it out as long as possible and get as much information as I could. With the round being untimed, this gave me an opportunity to see nearly every card in Logan’s deck.

Game Two: In—4x Duress, 3x Lifebane Zombie, 2x Erebos, God of the Dead. Out—2x Devour Flesh, 1x Ultimate Price, 3x Gray Merchant of Asphodel, 2x Bile Blight, 1x Desecration Demon.

Chances were pretty good that he had Blood Baron of Vizkopa in his sideboard, but I couldn’t justify leaving in the copies of Devour Flesh, as they would be completely dead if he resolved Elspeth, Sun’s Champion before a Blood Baron, kept Mutavault mana open, or didn’t even board them. I had to rely on my Lifebane Zombies, Thoughtseizes, and Erebos being good enough.

I do not like Gray Merchant of Asphodel versus control decks. You rarely have enough permanents to get more than two to four life off of the drain effect, he dies to every removal spell they typically play (often with the trigger on the stack), and he is awful at attacking. Aggressively attacking with Pack Rats allowed Erebos to carry the team.

Game Three: This game went about as well as I could ask for a game to go. We both drew a lot of lands, but his inability to find a Detention Sphere to remove my Erebos allowed me to play aggressively and grind down his life total even through a Blood Baron of Vizkopa.

Finals – Gerald Orrison (fourth seed) – Mono-Black Devotion

This match is also on Twitch. www.twitch.tv/gamescape

Game One: Desecration Demon presented a threat that Gerald couldn’t answer. Followed up with two Grey Merchant of Asphodel, the second of which he saw with a Lifebane Zombie, he conceded.

Game Two: In—2x Erebos, God of the Dead, 1x Ultimate Price, 1x Dark Betrayal. Out—2x Devour Flesh, 2x Desecration Demon.

Hero’s Downfall is normally worse on the draw due to not being able to kill Pack Rat on turn two, but I assumed that because he did not have Nightveil Specters, he would likely keep in all of his Desecration Demons, making my own Desecration Demons and Hero’s Downfalls better than they normally would be in the mirror match. This also makes Bile Blight worse, as my only killable targets would be Pack Rat and Mutavault.

As far as my keep in game two: it was 2x Underworld Connections, 1x Dark Betrayal, 1x Pack Rat, 1x Bile Blight, 1x Swamp, and 1x Nightveil Specter. Several people have told me that they would have mulliganed this hand (including the commentators). With 25 lands remaining of the 53 cards remaining in my library, being on the draw put me at a 47% chance to draw a land within two draw steps (with the percentage of drawing a land going up, marginally, each time) before I missed a land drop. I had a castable removal spell to deal with a turn-two Pack Rat, a threat when I drew my second land, and another removal spell. If I drew a third land, I would easily be far ahead. Keeping six cards and one land also mitigates my vulnerability to Thoughtseize/Duress. In my opinion, I would keep that hand on the draw 100% of the time. It worked out.

On the last turn of the game, he played a Mutavault then used it to activate a Mutavault and attack for two. He Thoughtseized, putting himself at four life with one card remaining in hand, which I knew was an Ultimate Price from earlier in the game. This left him dead on board to Mutavault and Nightveil Specter.

Thanks for reading, and may your statistically-based decisions be always in your favor.

If you’d like to contact me, my email address is dustinflora@gmail.com

Dustin Flora has been playing Magic for over 20 years (with a 12-year break between 2000 and 2012). Since coming back to to the game, he’s qualified for the Pro Tour three times, and made top eight of three SCG Opens and an Invitational.

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