very now and then, a deck just reaches out and grabs you.
When that happens, you may want to consult a psychiatrist. Decks are inanimate objects, after all. But, if you can confirm that it did actually happen, you should definitely investigate further.
I will neither confirm, nor deny, the state of my mental acuity when I opened up the email containing Trevor Holness's decklist. But I can definitely say that, if the deck itself didn't physically grab me, I certainly imagined it doing so and pulling me in deeper and deeper, like a black hole or Brian Kibler shuffling his hand of cards.
This is a deck I instantly built up in Magic Online and started working on. It's the most fun I've had in Modern in the format's existence—and I have built a lot of Modern decks. And now, it's time to let this deck grab you.
Take a look:
Trevor Holness's Mono-Green Nykthos
The Battle Plan
You've probably seen how strong Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx has been in Standard. It constantly puts its user ahead on mana by a significant amount, and in a deck like Makihito Mihara's Colossal Gruul from the Top 8 of Pro Tour Theros it can even be tapped and untapped with Voyaging Satyr to create ten+ mana in a single turn.
Well, if you thought that was good, just wait until you see what this deck can do. With my evolution of this deck, I've produced well over a hundred mana in a single turn—and that's not even a rare event!
Here's how it works.
This deck is full of green mana symbols and acceleration to power up your devotion. Thanks to all of your ramp and Nykthos, you have a number of juicy cards you can cast quickly, like Primeval Titan. But the real all-star you're building up to is Genesis Wave.
You can tap a bunch of mana, pump it into a Genesis Wave, and then if you hit Nykthos and two more mana you can effortlessly create a bunch more mana and continue onward. Garruk Wildspeaker also helps you go crazy, untapping your Nykthos and letting you generate mana from it multiple times each turn. Your endgame here is Craterhoof Behemoth, smashing in your opponent's face for a ton of damage.
The average win turn for this deck? After playing a lot, it's usually turn four or five and very occasionally turn three. (Theoretically, you can kill on turn two, although that's realistically a bit of a stretch.) You can certainly grind out a long game if you need to—but your deck is so explosive that often you'll be able to finish off the game in the first few turns. (Especially once you make a few tweaks.)
What are some of those tweaks? Let's take a look...
What's the genesis of something good and what could be left by the wayside? It's time to run through the deck card by card and make modifications.
This deck aims to ramp and accelerate quickly while also adding green mana symbols to the board, and one-drop accelerants fit that goal perfectly. The only question is: which ones should this deck be playing?
I think this deck actually wants more than just eight. I want to play one on turn one most games and flood the board with them early. I'm actually looking more in the range of fifteen to sixteen! So, which ones?
A card I actually really want here isn't a creature at all: Utopia Sprawl! This one-drop accelerator does a few excellent things in this deck.
First of all, it has "haste," meaning that it produces a mana as soon as it hits the battlefield. (Provided you cast it on an untapped Forest.) Second, it works well with anything that untaps your lands—for example, untapping it with Garruk now provides you with two mana rather than one. Third, it isn't a creature, providing you with a bit of resilience toward board sweepers.
And now that we have Utopia Sprawl, there's another awesome one-drop we should be playing with: Arbor Elf!
On its own, the Elf is identical to a Llanowar Elves almost all of the time. However, with Utopia Sprawl, you can net a ton of mana! A not-uncommon play in this deck is turn-one Arbor Elf, turn two Utopia Sprawl on an untapped forest, tap it for two mana, untap it, cast Garruk. (Perhaps untapping your lands and casting something else!) That's a crazy turn-two play!
Okay, so we have Utopia Sprawl and Arbor Elf. After that, Trevor has Joraga Treespeaker—a very nice addition. A lot of other similar decks I've seen (or was sent) didn't have this guy. While it doesn't jump you to three mana on turn two, that's okay—this deck wants to ramp into big things, not turn-two three-drops. What it does do is enable turn-three Primeval Titans alongside another mana producer, and help you hit a critical mass of mana for Genesis Wave or your other huge creatures earlier. I definitely want all four of these.
I'm going to round it out with two Llanowar Elves and an Elvish Mystic. Traditional and consistent, there's nothing wrong with relying on these. I'm splitting them two and one because they're functionally identical, and there are corner cases with cards like Detention Sphere. (Plus, it also might make your opponent think you're playing more Elves than you actually are.)
Speaking of acceleration, here's another accelerator. This one has the upside of being particularly good with Genesis Wave, letting you Wave and then pick up an extra mana for each land you hit. It also can help power out big threats early thanks to fetch lands.
However, what I've found is that you usually don't need help once you've cast Genesis Wave—that will give you enough mana. While using it to create mana bursts for cards like Primeval Titan is nice, I'd rather be playing one-drop accelerators over this, and something has to go to make room for them. Goodbye, Cobra!
The Emissary doesn't look too impressive in this deck on the surface. It doesn't put you up any mana early, and then is just a 2/2 afterward. And, unlike other decks that use it, this deck doesn't care as much about the creature.
However, Burning-Tree Emissary actually does a bunch of good things for this deck. First of all, it enables your explosive devotion starts. In any hand with Nykthos, you really want to see Emissaries so you can supercharge your mana. Emissary is part of several of your strongest starts.
However, it's more than just that. When you Genesis Wave, Emissary actually puts you back up mana! This is especially important because often you'll flip another Nykthos, and thanks to the new legendary rule you can keep the new, untapped one... but because you put all of your mana into Genesis Wave you may not have mana to spend on it if you didn't hit enough lands. Fear not, because Burning-Tree Emissary will give you the mana you need to activate your Nykthos and go completely crazy. The card does enough here that I'd like to keep all four.
I've seen some other versions of this deck that muck around with Cloudstone Curio and use the Visionary as an engine. While, as a longtime Elves player, I certainly enjoy a good Curio, I actually don't like that route for this deck at all—it's something you have to set up and spend a lot of time and mana fooling around with when you could just be killing your opponent.
I wouldn't be surprised if I was one of the Top 25 Elvish Visionary fans in the world—I absolutely love the card, and have played it far more than I should. It certainly isn't without merit here; Visionary adds a green mana symbol to the board without a ton of cost to you. However, in this deck there are just a lot more explosive things you can be doing and I would rather focus on those.
I do still want a way to draw cards—just more cards than Elvish Visionary offers. Ramping in this deck is no problem at all with so many mana accelerants, so the card that seemed like a natural fit to me is Regal Force.
Regal Force has played very well ever since I added it, drawing you a fistful of cards, ensuring your big Genesis Waves always fully combo out, and adding three green devotion to boot. (And don't worry—you never worry about accidentally decking yourself with Genesis Wave since you don't have to put Regal Force into play if you don't want to.) The number of Regal Forces I settled on is two, although I went between two and three quite a bit in playtesting and could see going with either. (More on this when I get to talking about Expedition Map.)
I tried several iterations of this deck as I was testing and tweaking it, many with Primeval Titan and many without. There certainly is an allure to just playing more Regal Forces instead and focusing on comboing out.
However, I found a couple things. First of all, Primeval Titan into a Kessig Wolf Run and Nykthos is often enough on its own. Even if your opponent kills the Titan, a Wolf Run with Nykthos around will deal a ton of damage. I've definitely ended numerous games on the back of 15-power Llanowar Elves. There will be games where Primeval Titan is all you really have to ramp into—but that will still be enough.
Second, this may come as a shock, but 6/6 tramplers that come out on turn three are still just reallypowerful. Even in a high-powered format like Modern, if your opponent doesn't kill your Titan right away he or she is going to be in for a world of problems.
Because this deck needs a high Forest density for Arbor Elf and Utopia Sprawl, you can't get away with too many nonbasic tutor targets for Primeval Titan. The one I actually found myself using was Horizon Canopy, which was also pretty good when you just drew it naturally. You could also consider a Cavern of Souls, although I opted to run neither Boseiju, Who Shelters All or Cavern of Souls main deck. (Although they're perfectly reasonable cards to talk about in the sideboard.)
I tried many different numbers, but eventually found four was the way to go. You can ramp into these quickly and they will take over the game if left unchecked—sign me up.
Craterhoof is a great way to try and end the game. However, something I'm always trying to do is consolidate my win conditions. Trevor opted for four Craterhoofs—but how many does this deck really need?
The problem with playing too many expensive cards is that you can just end up with a hand full of them early and not be able to cast anything. There's a careful balance you have to strike, especially with already playing so many cards you want to cast for a ton of mana.
The number of these I think I actually want is one or two. The question between the two is: how often do you want to draw one naturally?
When you go off with Genesis Wave, you can usually end up comboing out for everything in your deck. You'll hit your Craterhoof Behemoth. Even if that Behemoth isn't enough to kill your opponent in one swing, you'll have Kessig Wolf Run on the battlefield, which you can then untap with a Garruk and activate (using Nykthos mana—which you also untapped, of course) to be more than lethal. For this, you only need one. Really, all you want here is a haste creature—but I'd rather have something big like this than, say, a Uktabi Drake, since Behemoth is going to have other functionality as well when you ramp into it.
On the other hand, if you want to just draw it and be able to hard-cast Behemoth sometimes, then you want two.
I tried it both ways, and found that usually I'd just prefer Behemoth was another Regal Force. Regal Force costs one less mana, and while Behemoth will win you the game if you have enough creatures, Regal Force usually will as well and is also far more resilient. (And better in the games you have to grind out versus a ton of removal and sweepers.) One Behemoth it is!
This card is one of the backbones of the deck and what allows you to flip everything you have onto the table. I tried Primal Surge briefly to see if it would be better, but came back to Genesis Wave since you don't have the problem with randomly fizzling out when you run into another Primal Surge. All Genesis Wave needed was a way to consistently go off with it...
...and I found that card in Eternal Witness. Hitting Witness off a Genesis Wave allows you to return the Wave and do it all over again. If you flipped a Nykthos and/or a Garruk and/or a Regal Force as well, that should probably be game over.
Eternal Witness also has a ton of other functionality in this deck, adding two green mana symbols and letting you reuse lost cards. Interestingly enough, after Genesis Wave, my most common target is probably Nykthos itself! What will often happen is I'll play a Primeval Titan, fetch two Nykthos, sacrifice one of them, then Eternal Witness the one that went to the graveyard back so I can do the trick of activating Nykthos then playing another Nykthos! This deck takes full advantage of the new legendary rule.
I found three Witnesses to be the right number. You don't want to be flooded on them, but you do want to consistently hit one when you cast Genesis Wave and it's perfectly fine on its own.
I tried out Expedition Map briefly, then quickly moved to Sylvan Scrying. Being able to find Nykthos is definitely a boon. While you don't need it to start casting your major spells—you have enough acceleration to make that happen—it is how your most explosive draws begin and how you can kill very quickly with Genesis Wave.
However, what I found is that, while finding the first Nykthos is very good and finding the second one is reasonable, you don't really want to see more than that. I'd get hands with two base Nykthos and a Sylvan Scrying and just have a card I didn't want at all.
Instead, where I started looking was card draw. Drawing cards helps you find Nykthos, while also being good on its own when you're looking for gas or to rebuild after your opponent deals with some of your creatures.
I looked briefly at Garruk, Primal Hunter, but he doesn't mesh well with the Garruks already in the deck since you reallywant to have an active Garruk Wildspeaker and your creatures aren't that large until you get to untap with a big one anyway. Instead, the card I want here is Harmonize. For four mana, it picks you up three cards deeper. It also adds another great target for Eternal Witness: even if you don't have a Genesis Wave yet, you can still Harmonize, Witness, Harmonize again off a bunch of Nykthos mana, and then hopefully be ready to kill your opponent on the next turn with a Genesis Wave.
Earlier, when I was stalking about Regal Force, I mentioned you should come back when I got to Expedition Map. Why? Well, I wanted to spend five total slots between Harmonize and Regal Force. I tried it as a three-two split in either direction, and eventually settled on three Harmonize and two Regal Force.
Harmonize is better for resilience early on, but Force is better for comboing off quicker. Feel free to choose whichever will be better for your metagame: Harmonize is better if people are attacking your early game and you need to reload, whereas Regal Force is better if you want to combo out faster or you think the game will go long.
The more I played with this deck, the more I came to realize that Garruk Wildspeaker is one of the best cards.
First, he untaps your Nykthos, letting you gain a ton of mana and often netting you even more mana on that same turn thanks to his two green mana symbols. (Might I recommend untapping a Nykthos and a Utopia Sprawled land?)
Second, when you're going off, you can often play extra Garruks as a mana ritual thanks to the new legendary rule; you can untap your lands, produce more mana, then play a second Garruk (sacrificing the first one) and untap your Nykthos again for even more mana. Extra ones that enter the battlefield from Genesis Wave have the same impact, letting you untap your Nykthos again for the second wave!
Third, even without Nykthos, he still accelerates you very well and curves nicely into Primeval Titan or Regal Force.
Fourth, to sweeten the deal even further, sometimes you can just kill people with a bunch of mana Elves and Garruk's ultimate. It doesn't take much to threaten to attack for 16 or more by turn four.
I definitely want to bump this number up to four. I want to draw one of these every game, and multiples aren't bad at all.
With all of those changes in mind, that brings the deck to:
Gavin Verhey's Nyxwave
This is definitely the most fun Modern deck I've played yet. I can't get enough of playing this deck on Magic Online. Hopefully, now you will too!
This deck is definitely pretty competitive as well. I've won on turn three a couple times, and turn four or five happens with reasonable regularity. Plus, unlike some combo decks, you have a great backup plan if things go awry. Build this deck up and give it a try—I wouldn't be surprised if this slowly turned into a major Modern archetype.
I should note that if the fetch lands are putting you off of building this deck at all, you absolutely don't need them. There are just a few reasons why I am playing them.
The deck thinning is a marginal benefit not really worth the life, but what I did find myself doing often enough to consider playing some is returning a land to my hand with Eternal Witness to ensure I could hit my next land drop. (Especially because sometimes you just want to roll a Witness out there to add two green symbols to your devotion and it's nice to get some value.) You can also find the Stomping Ground to save you the trouble of having to use Burning-Tree Emissary, Utopia Sprawl, or Primeval Titan later on to get red mana.
However, I don't want to play too many fetches because I don't want to run out of lands to find with them while I'm going off, and the damage is also relevant. If you don't have them, I wouldn't worry about it.
Thanks to everybody who sent in similar lists and to the couple people I saw during my research into the archetype who have played this deck on Magic Online. (Bing Luke notably being one of them.) This week was a blast to work on!
There were many wonderful Modern devotion decks sent in this week! Here's a sampling of some of them.
Jarom Lemmon's Black Devotion Midrange
Ben Hellner-Burris's Izzet Dual Devotion?
Hiroya Kobayashi's "Grand Architect Combo"
Nathanaël François's Leyline-Counterbalance
George Wolfe's Rath of the Fanatic
Ryan Cimera's Tezzeret Devotion
Ondøej Z.'s Tokenswarm
Anthony Gutiérrez's Leyline of Mogis
Jacob Fox's Jund And End
Christian Post's Candelabra of Nyx
Oshiaki Hutaba's Devotion Cloud
Umberto Bucalossi's Devoted Elves
One More for the Road
It's hard to believe, but that was the last deck to work on of the year. I'm glad I got go out with a bang—what a fun deck to cover!
But don't worry—I don't want to go. Not just yet. I'll be back again one more time to close out the year, doing something a little different than my normal deck tweaking. Be sure to come back next week to see what I have in store to close out 2013!
In the meantime, if you have any thoughts or comments on this deck or article, feel free to send them my way on Twitter or in the forums—I'd love to hear what you think. This deck has a lot of potential and is so much fun to play: definitely give it a try over the holidays! If you want to talk about it, I'll be around on Twitter to do so.
Alright then. And with that, I'll see you next week. Until then, may you, too, have fun casting Genesis Wave for twenty+ on turn three!
When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he wanted a job making Magic cards. Ten years later, his dream was realized as his combined success as a professional player, deck builder, and writer brought him into Wizards R&D during 2011. He's been writing Magic articles since 2005 and has no plans to stop.