Everything you need to know about the ramping, combo-ing, beat-down meta nemesis.
Card: Cavalier of Thorns | Art: Jehan Choo
Green Devotion. It’s the boogeyman of Pioneer, consistently putting pilots into top eights and looming over the metagame. Is it too good? Is it overrated? Should something from the deck get banned? Is it a solid choice that has strengths and weaknesses like every other Pioneer deck?
In this guide, we'll cover everything you need to know about Pioneer's Mono-Green Devotion deck.
Why Play Devotion?
On its surface, Green Devotion is a midrange deck that can quickly snowball into a huge board of creatures and planeswalkers. It can even assemble a combo-kill that doesn’t rely on combat, meaning it can win through a board stall or opponents’ big blockers.
It can slow down aggro strategies and grind through removal. Plus, it’s very consistent. It has a toolbox of sideboard artifacts that can help in every matchup thanks to Karn, the Great Creator and you’ll usually have more than enough mana to cast them thanks to Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx.
How the Deck Works
The idea is to play most of the cards in your hand as fast as possible, building your devotion to green and relying on Nykthos to gain an insurmountable mana advantage that can be used to cast expensive spells. Karn and Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner help you generate card advantage while the non-elf creatures do a great job protecting both your planeswalkers and your life total.
One of the reasons Green Devotion is so consistently powerful is the duo of Elvish Mystic and Llanowar Elves. A turn-one elf followed by a three-drop on turn two is extremely powerful, and being able to play eight mana creatures just increases the chances of that happening. It also doesn't hurt that your three-drop features three green pips to turn on Nykthos.
The deck can also ramp with Wolfwillow Haven, another secretly powerful card that adds to your devotion. Oath of Nissa is here to ensure you always have something to cast on your first turn.
The payoff creatures are Old-Growth Troll and Cavalier of Thorns, two fairly large bodies that both add three devotion. The troll is good both on defense and offense with trample, and if it dies, it ramps your mana more while still giving you an additional three green pips for devotion.
Cavalier is extremely important since it’s your only way to block fliers. It gives you a free land when it enters, but also puts the other cards in the graveyard, which allows you to flashback a Storm the Festival if you find one. Its last ability also lets you start immediately building your board again if it happens to die, letting you draw the best card in your graveyard next turn.
Kiora is the key to creating huge amounts of mana since its minus ability lets you untap Nykthos (or another land with a Wolfwillow Haven or Old-Growth Troll enchanting it). It doubles as a way to refill your hand as you find your larger creatures, creating an ever-growing board presence.
Karn is your key to the sideboard full of artifacts. Most of the time you’ll pick something impactful you can cast by the next turn, but against several decks, Karn by himself is enough to disrupt their gameplan. Its static ability completely shuts down the main plan from BR Sacrifice and Greasefang and also doesn’t let your opponent use blood or treasure tokens.
The one card that ties everything together and puts the deck over the top is Storm the Festival. It can completely flip the odds of winning in your favor. Not only does it let you choose any two permanents, including planeswalkers and lands, but it has flashback! Sometimes you’ll have enough devotion to cast this twice in one turn, completely putting the game out of reach. Don't forget that the cards it adds to the battlefield can count towards your devotion for the second tapping of Nykthos if you untap it with Kiora. Your main goal should be racing to find and cast this card as soon as possible.
The deck plays four of every other nonland card, but there are still three to four slots where you’ll find different cards. The consensus now is that Lovestruck Beast is worth a copy or two as a way to slow down early aggressive starts, draw a card from Kiora, and let you use any extra mana on your first few turns.
In the past, Sylvan Caryatid was played as another way to ramp, and you might still see some lists play one or two.
Finally, you can add one or two extra planeswalkers, usually Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God, or Teferi, Who Slows the Sunset. These can be cast with your green mana base thanks to Oath of Nissa, and can also be put into play with Storm the Festival. Nicol Bolas offers removal, something the deck lacks, and Teferi lets you generate even more mana and helps with quicker combo wins.
Finally, the mana base isn’t too complicated since the entire list runs on green. Four copies of Nykthos are a given, and with the mono-color theme you get to run a few utility lands in Boseiju, Who Endures, and Lair of the Hydra for essentially free.
Remember that at its core, Green Devotion is a ramp deck. It’s usually worth taking a mulligan or two to find early acceleration. Especially on the draw, in this format where playing first is so powerful, it can be hard to win without a turn-one play. You win by ramping and taking advantage of your extra mana as fast as possible, and that’s hard to do without early action.
Pioneer Mono-Green Devotion Sideboard Tech
Because of Karn, the Great Creator, the sideboard is filled with artifacts that can be wished for during the game. You might see some lists play a few copies of a card like Voracious Hydra to actually bring in between games, but for the most part, you don’t sideboard at all!
Brothers’ War added lots of new toys for the toolbox, so I’ll go over some of the most common inclusions. Keep in mind that you can choose almost any of these to include, depending on the decks you’re expecting to face and your play style.
Some artifacts are redundant or are slightly better or worse depending on the situation. The card you choose with Karn can change in every situation, even against the same deck.
Take a moment to evaluate the board and think about what your opponent can have and how soon you can actually use the card you choose. Certain cards are better or worse depending on how much mana you have available, as well.
An easy choice against graveyard strategies. It’s a great answer to Phoenix decks and gives you insurance against Greasefang if they end up dealing with your Karn. Crypt is chosen over other one-shot graveyard hate like Soul-Guide Lantern since it costs zero, and can be cast the turn you activate Karn.
Darksteel Citadel / Treasure Vault
Sometimes you don’t have another land in your hand, and you just want to make sure you hit your next land drop. Especially if you’re one short from casting a big spell like Storm the Festival or Cavalier of Thorns, it’s valuable to have access to one of these.
A new card from Brothers’ War, this is a very effective way to deal with artifacts and enchantments. It can answer everything from Wedding Announcement out of aggro decks to Temporary Lockdown and Leyline Binding.
A cheap catch-all that is sometimes your best choice when you don’t have much extra mana. It can answer something obvious like an opposing planeswalker but also has niche cases like shutting off your opponent’s creature lands.
The Stone Brain
Another new card, The Stone Brain is a silver bullet that’s great when there’s one specific answer you don’t want your opponent to have, or against combo decks that rely on one card to win, like Lotus Field. Also, because it exiles itself, you can use Karn to retrieve it again if you want to use it more than once.
A nice choice to get a troublesome creature out of the way for only four mana. It’s great against an opposing Thing in the Ice or a huge Ledger Shredder.
Esika’s Chariot / Heart of Kiran
These usually come in against aggro decks as a way to stem the bleeding. Remember that Heart of Kiran can be crewed with your planeswalkers for an extra blocker.
Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
One of the best cards against strategies like Rakdos Midrange, and so good that some players might play one or two extra in the main. If you and your opponent have similar board states, this is one of the most efficient ways to start breaking through.
The Mightstone and Weakstone
An interesting new choice that can either be a removal spell or a way to draw two cards. Flexible cards like this are invaluable since there are only 15 sideboard slots.
This slot used to be taken by Meteor Golem, but for only one more mana we get an incredible upgrade. It can take over a game on its own, and even if discarded or killed can be unearthed. A removal spell for basically anything you care about and an evasive win condition that many decks can’t answer.
A great choice when you’re winning but don’t know exactly what your opponent could have to get back into the game. It’s close to unbeatable for Phoenix, and if it comes down early enough unbeatable for any deck trying to cast spells. Remember the life loss trigger too!
Since this is a dual-faced card, putting the Cauldron into your hand lets you cast its backside, Restorative Burst. This is a solid play when you’re heavy on mana but low on threats, and want to get back two better cards from your graveyard, even if you can’t combo right away. Of course, it's also a piece of your infinite combo since you can fetch it back from exile with Karn.
The Chain Veil
Used mainly for the combo, sometimes you’ll get it a turn early so you can try to win the following turn. Keep in mind that for each activation, every planeswalker can be used an additional time, not just the ones already in play.
Another new card that’s cast for its prototype cost, adding two to your green devotion and untapping a land. It’s a good bridge to the late game if you haven’t found a Kiora yet or you have lots of expensive cards in your hand.
Assemble the Combo
The basis of the "combo kill" involves looping Restorative Burst, which allows you to return Karn and Kiora to your hand. Kiora can then can both be activated to untap Nykthos, generating enough mana to cast Karn and wish for Burst again. With a high enough devotion count, you'll gain mana every time you go through this process.
By using The Chain Veil, each copy of Karn can be used more than once, letting you cast and activate The Stone Brain as many times as you want, slowly exiling your opponent's entire deck to win that turn. Previous versions of the deck relied on casting Pestilent Cauldron and activating its second ability, but by using The Stone Brain you don't need access to black mana at all.
The simplest board position from which you can “go off” with the base deck requires you to have at least eight devotion, a copy of Nykthos, eight available mana, both Kiora and Karn in play and available to activate, and a Kiora and Karn each in the graveyard or your hand. It starts with wishing for The Chain Veil. It sounds like a lot, but almost every card you play adds to your devotion, and Storm the Festival does a great job both increasing your Nykthos output and putting extra planeswalkers in the graveyard.
There are many different starting points you can win from thanks to The Chain Veil, but they all depend on exactly which cards you have where and how much mana you can create. For example, if you play Teferi, all you need is a Nykthos that can be activated to make six mana with both the planeswalker and The Chain Veil in play to gain effectively infinite life. A Heart of Kiran lets you combo without an additional copy of the planeswalkers, but it means waiting an extra turn to wish for it with Karn.
The combo comes up less than you might think it does since with enough devotion and planeswalkers to go off you’re probably so far ahead on board you were going to win anyway.
Still, it’s worth practicing and testing different board states that might be capable of winning on the spot. Remember that the deck is a known quantity in Pioneer, and opponents can have answers to disrupt the combo, even at instant speed. Artifact hate can destroy The Chain Veil, removal spells can kill creatures or planeswalkers and reduce devotion, and some decks can answer Nykthos with cards like Damping Sphere.
Pioneer Mono-Green Devotion Strengths and Weaknesses
It’s obvious that Mono-Green Devotion is incredibly powerful. But what does it have trouble against?
One glaring weakness is creatures with flying. Cavalier of Thorns is the only way you can block opposing flyers, and it’s the most expensive creature in the deck. An early Ledger Shredder or an army of angels can pressure your planeswalkers and threaten to win before you can take advantage of your devotion count. Sideboard cards like Heart of Kiran, Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, Transmogrifying Wand, and The Mightstone and Weakstone help to kill those creatures and block them in the air.
Another problem is very fast aggro decks, especially Mono-White Humans. Their creatures come down early and get big fast thanks to Luminarch Aspirant and Thalia’s Lieutenant. Even if you can get a blocker down, it can get outclassed or exiled with a Brutal Cathar. Worse, since all your creatures are green, Brave the Elements is usually game over. The best you can do is search for early creatures and try to minimize the damage you take while raising your devotion.
Maybe the worst matchup combines flying and aggro: Spirits. Most of the creatures fly, and in addition to the swath of cheap creatures, the deck plays counterspells that can throw off your plan of surviving.
With that being said, Green Devotion has a good matchup against Rakdos Midrange and control decks because of its amazing ability to grind out card advantage. The access to sideboard artifacts also allows it to have great answers to the Greasefang and Lotus Field decks. It’s hard for most opponents to catch up after a fast start, regardless of what they’re playing, and the threat of a combo kill is always looming.
Green Devotion is a very powerful deck with some truly incredible draws, but not without its flaws. If I knew I could dodge Mono-White and Spirits, I’d play it in every tournament going forward.
As it stands, I don’t think anything from the deck will get banned anytime soon, especially after the diversity found at the recent regional championships in Atlanta.
Devotion is an archetype that can adapt to the metagame, thanks to its flex spots and toolbox sideboard. It should continue to be a pillar of the Pioneer metagame, so know how it works -- to win with it or beat it.
Have you played with or against Devotion? What artifacts do you think deserve a spot in the sideboard?
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