Three Strikes at the Pro Tour Top 8: Beating Mono-Black Devotion by Dave Shedden

The Crown Duels – Graduating from DOTP to the wider game by Dave Shedden

Beating the Pro Tour Top 8 Decks – How to Beat Mono-Black Devotion in Standard

It’s the end of the road, my compulsive card crunchers.

Today, after two prior swings, we take one last shot at felling the great oak that is the Pro Tour top 8 metagame.

Strike 3

It’s been pretty good fun, trying to build interestingly-flavoured decks to combat these polished beasts the pros have thrown together.

Most interestingly of all, today I get to strategise against a deck which, if I weren’t building on a budget, would probably be my pick to use against the others…

In the Cross-hairs today… Pack Rat

I’m not going to lie to you: I love that I’m getting to face off against Pack Rat. I’ve built more decks with this little guy that I care to remember, all of which just lacked the oomph to get the job done in Innistrad – RTR Standard .

Now, Wizards have printed the devotion mechanic, which makes the most unassuming element of our favourite little rat (his abundance of black mana symbols) into a turbo-charged engine for a grinding attrition deck.

Since that’s the case – and much as I love you, my little rodent buddy – it’s time to play Rat-catcher.

What makes Mono-Black Devotion powerful?

As a long-time lover of Swamps, it gives me great pleasure to say this: their cards are good across the board – and even better in combination.

Card quality

Getting to play any of these cards is pretty good. Getting to play them all, together, is excellent.

Thoughtseize is literally about as good as a one-for-one answer card can be, without venturing into unfair territory; Pack Rat is a superb, deceptively fast threat against anyone not casting Supreme Verdict; Underworld Connections is a reliable source of long-term card advantage.

Solid answers

Mono-Black’s answer suite is as good as you would expect. Many better players than I have already noted this, but expanding the range of Black’s pinpoint destruction to include Planeswalkers is absolutely huge; it might well be the piece of colour-pie tweaking that makes the colour seriously competitive again in the coming years.


Last but not least, the deck sports a powerful top-end. Underworld Connections, followed by the Demon and a Gray Merchant is a really hard-hitting sequence of plays… and that’s really not a Magical-Christmas-Land scenario, it’s just a deck curving out on time!

Cards I like against Mono-Black Devotion

This is a tough one – but I’ve decided that rather than trying to go over the top of such an incredibly grindy deck, I prefer to try and sneak under it.

I want to be fast; I want to deploy threats which will tax Mono-Black’s one-for-one removal; I want to put them at a mana-disadvantage wherever I can, forcing them to use more expensive spells on cheap threats.

The route I’ve decided to take owes a lot to long-term associate and professorial deck brewer, Chris Yorke, who sent me a list which shares many of the key features of today’s final product. Thanks for pointing me in an interesting direction, sir!

Army builders

To put Mono-Black under pressure, we’re going to make an army; an army which is faster and cheaper to deploy than their Pack Rats. We’ll need some help to do that, of course, from some useful spells. Lots of spells!

Enabling spells

I’m very curious about the potential of a spell like Hidden Strings in this deck. It can tap blockers and trigger Heroic, turn after turn, bringing Pyromancer tokens along for the ride. Hands of Binding is less flexible, but it can at least push through damage and trigger the Pyromancer. Coordinated Assault only happens once, but it happens cheaply and brings a range of benefits.

However, we’ll need more action than this to go with our spell blitz. Luckily, I know just the guys.

spell synergy

You know what Heroic cards, Young Pyromancer and Guttersnipe all have in common? None of them need the spells which trigger them to actually resolve.

This means that, should Nivmagus Elemental need to eat some spells and get big, it’s likely that we’ll already have all the tokens and damage we wanted in the first place… so he can just go ahead and start munching.

One thing remains: how are we going to get our huge army of tokens and small dudes to connect with the Mono-Black opponent?

Way through

Why, by giving a home to Dave’s pet cards, of course!

I’ve loved Teleportal since the day it was printed. Will it be good in this deck? I have no idea, but I’ll be damned if I don’t try it out. Arena Athlete might be good too, but without actually shuffling this thing up, I’m not confident enough to max out on him; two slots should be enough for him to play his part and make a case for a starring role.

The Decklist

Here’s where I got to:

Decklist - lands

Decklist - ones


Decklist - twos

Decklist - threes

This is a very ‘blitzy’ deck, if that can be considered a real word.

Ideally, we are going to drop a creature on the first turn, then perhaps a Pyromancer or a Hidden Strings on the second, before absolutely going to town on the opponent thereafter.

What’s crucial is that we start generating tokens as quickly as we can, because Mono-Black will be ready to start dishing out the removal spells from the second turn. If we can get some burn and Cipher on the go with any of our added-value creatures in play, we should be in a very good spot to apply pressure.

This is possibly the most budget of all the decks I’ve proposed this week, but it’s also my favourite. I don’t know if I’ve got the mix exactly right, but I have a sneaky feeling that there’s potential in this type of strategy. If you choose to experiment with it, be sure to share your results!

Now it’s over to you

  • Think the list is absolutely terrible?
  • Think it’s a remarkable achievement for a 30 minute brew?
  • Have a better way to beat the Black deck on a budget?

Let me have it in the comments!

Thanks to everyone who’s commented, or messaged me, or shared these articles over the last few days. It’s been great fun – and I’m eager to hear whether you think there might be other topics worthy of the triple-feature treatment in future.

Thanks for reading, thanks for sharing.



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