A Devoted Initiative

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The letter I! always appreciate when beatdown decks have multiple angles of attack.

Sure, I like the satisfaction of crushing my opponent under a horde of creatures as much as the next player. Bam, take 20, you're dead! But the aggressive decks that always shine above and beyond to me are the ones that have additional routes to victory. What do you do when a bunch of blockers get in the way? Is there a combo you can pull off? Some sideways way of finishing the opponent?

Well, today's deck definitely has such a route.

Let's take a look at Pavlos Andreadis's version of red devotion:

The Battle Plan

At its core, Pavlos's deck is an average devotion deck. Plenty of red mana symbols abound, and you can generate huge bursts of mana with Nykthos or finish people off using Fanatic of Mogis and Purphoros.

But there's something a little less expected here as well.

Unlike many devotion decks, this one features two colors. There are a few reasons—but one of the big ones is this card:

Picture this. After a slow start, the board has stalled up a bit and you can't really attack well. You need to push through 8 damage out of nowhere or you're going to lose. Your opponent feels confident the ground is gummed up, relegating your creatures to irrelevancy.

But wait—what's this? Legion's Initiative!? You flicker out your team and then, thanks to Purphoros, your four creatures deal 8 to the opponent. (Alternatively, imagine a highly devoted Fanatic of Mogis.)

While being a two-mana Orcish Oriflamme (or, as players during Alpha knew it, simply Orcish Oriflamme) is a nice card for pushing through some extra damage, the conjunction of that with the ability to just end the game out of nowhere by reusing Fanatics and Purphoros triggers adds a whole new layer of attack to an aggressive deck like this one.

The key in revising this deck is going to be, firstly, making sure it's an optimized beatdown deck. After that, it's going to be to making sure that it has enough to do with an Initiative.

Deck Breakdown

Now that we know the goals, let's go through this deck card by card and figure out what will be part of our legion and what doesn't quite have the initiative to be included.


In general, I try not to play cards that get blanked by Sylvan Caryatid. The two-drop 0/3 is the enemy of 2-power one-drops everywhere.

However, in this deck, it's a little different. First of all, there are so many 2-power creatures in this deck that a more reasonable plan is just going to be churning out tons of them and attacking through Caryatid. It can't block them all! Secondly, Legion's Initiative and Purphoros both pump up your creatures so you can attack through the annoying green defender. And speaking of Legion's Initiative and Purphoros, I also don't mind building wide in this deck, because that combination threatens to end the game at some point. I'll stick with all four Cacklers here.


The Firedrinker is a card I definitely like a lot here. For one, it can attack through a Caryatid just fine. But secondly, in a deck that is capable of such huge mana bursts via Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, it can become a pretty gigantic attacker. I'd like to bulk the number up to the full four copies.


I'd say you can expect to cast one creature a turn early on. Rarely will you cast none, and sometimes you will cast two, but the most common scenario is that you play one creature and this is a 2/1. Now, with Burning-Tree Emissary in your deck, that tips the balance a little closer to the occasional 3/1.

And if this were a 3/1 I would certainly play it—but as a card that is mostly 2 power, and sometimes 1 power later on in the game, it doesn't excite me nearly as much. If this deck was a hyper-aggressive red deck I would be interested as well, but this red deck plans to curve a little higher than many aggressive decks.

While it looks appealing with Legion's Initiative, it actually takes two Denizens before cracking Legion's Initiative starts netting you any extra damage. (The Initiative naturally pumps all of your creatures, so you simply convert that power into a temporary point of power on the Denizen if you only have one.) And while generally I'd say you could run four and it would come up on occasion to get extra damage through, the combination of Denizen being generally weaker than Firedrinker or Cackler, not being strong later in the game, and this deck having far better things it could be doing with a Legion's Initiative activation makes me want to cut it here.

There are only so many one-drops I want to play, and the Denizen draws the short straw.


The Emissary is a cornerstone card of red devotion decks everywhere. It gets extra mana symbols onto the board quicker, and it comes with a plenty reasonable 2/2 body. While it awkwardly doesn't cast the deck's other two-drops—they're all double-colored—casting another one-drop, activating Firedrinker Satyr, or just playing it on turn three instead is all perfectly fine. And, of course, you can always get the crazy draw with multiple Emissaries. I definitely want all of them.


One of the best red two-drops in the format, this guy serves in for 2 damage right away and very importantly features two red mana symbols. Plus, there's always the added bonus that your opponent will read Ash Zealot's completely irrelevant (to this deck) extra text and get confused. I'll play all four.


I am a pretty big fan of this Eidolon. That damage is usually going to concern your opponent a lot more than it's going to concern you, since you're a beatdown deck, and the double-red mana symbols mean that it works just right with your devotion.

There is really only space for two more two-drops here, and while Eidolon is one I want, I wouldn't play more over Zealot or Emissary—so two it is.


In addition to being a plenty strong card on its own, this is one of your key combos with Legion's Initiative that can come back and win you the game out of nowhere. Because it's both good on its own and good with the Initiative, I want to up it to the full four copies. This deck plays a lot of cards that try and help you hit devotion—and this is one of the big payoff cards for doing just that.


And speaking of payoff cards, Purphoros is another one. He similarly makes for a combo with Legion's Initiative (this works even if he is a creature—a rules quirk of Magic is that if everything enters the battlefield at the same time, all of the cards "see" each other) and is plenty good as a 6-power attacker in his own right. Plus, he can also pump up your team with all of that extra Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx mana. I'm not going to play the full four because he's legendary and isn't likely to die, but he's still plenty strong.


Iroas is certainly a great card: he helps get your creatures through marvelously. However, he runs into trouble of being another four-drop in an aggressive deck that already features seven four-drops. I'm willing to play one copy because if you draw your singleton copy it's the kind of card that you can play toward making it matter, and it also fills the spot of the fourth Purphoros. While I'd love to play more, it's really hard to justify nine four-drops in a deck like this—but it's definitely the kind of card that will help you steal some games.


One of the reasons I've made several of the decisions I have up to this point is that Legion's Initiative is part of what makes this deck tick. When it's not busy pumping your team—a plenty strong thing to remember it does, by the way—the activated ability can serve as a means to finish off your opponent. Plus, it incidentally protects you from Supreme Verdict effects. I'm going to keep all four.


This isn't really a traditional red deck in the sense that it's trying to do much burning at all. Devotion decks value having permanents very highly, which makes a high quantity of burn less attractive. You don't want to go upstairs to the dome that often. That combination makes this want to be strong creature removal—and we can do better than Magma Jet.

Fortunately, red and white have one of the best pieces of removal in Standard available: Chained to the Rocks. For one mana, this card deals with any problem creature (well, hexproof of Caryatid or protection of Stormbreath Dragon aside) your opponentmight have. I want to start three copies, and then if I were to have a sideboard I would sideboard in the fourth: it's just that good against creature decks!


Hammer is a fine card, and definitely something to look for out of the sideboard against control. However, there's only room for so many cards in the deck—and there's something missing that I'd like to be playing. Boros Reckoner adds three to your devotion and packs a pretty big punch. Even if your opponent outclasses you on creature size, a Reckoner ensures he or she takes a bunch of damage when he or she attacks. And while it might be weak to black removal like Bile Blight or Hero's Downfall, it's still strong enough for me to want to play.

With all of those changes in mind, that brings the decklist to:

This kind of Boros deck is unique in that it's a bit slower than some but really packs a punch when it gets rolling. This is kind of the middle version—and there are two more directions you could go.

One is more of a complete aggressive deck with a lower devotion bent, using Viashino Firstblade and some more burn, like Boros Charm, to kill your opponent in no time. That deck would probably want Foundry Street Denizen again.

On the other hand, you could go even larger and eschew the one-drops in favor of cards like Assemble the Legion and some more removal spells.

It's all up to you! Feel free to tweak it for your metagame and play style—and have fun!

Honorable Mentions

What were some of the other notable decks sent in for Standard submissions this week? Let's take a look!

Naoto Nakajou's Time Works Wonders

Qoarl's Purple Devotion

Connor Macleod's Agents of Torment

Yori Tesaguri's BG Midrange

Tony Youssef's Thoughtrender Lock

Right into the Blender

This week, instead of a challenge, it's time for something a little different.

Last year, for ReConstructed's one-year anniversary (which also coincidentally happens to line up with my birthday), I did a topical blend article. I wanted to do another this year, but then the all-important April Fools' article took priority, and then we were running straight into Journey into Nyx previews and the excitement of a new Standard, followed by Vintage Masters, followed by Conspiracy...

But now, we have a brief break before Magic 2015 previews kick off! So, in two weeks, I'm going to do another topical blend.

If you're not familiar with a topical blend article, it was an idea that first showed up on this website back in 2005 via Mark Rosewater in this article. Since then, a few authors have done their own. One of the most popular articles I wrote before I worked at Wizards was a topical blend written back in 2010 (interestingly enough, it was written from the perspective of someone working at Wizards even though I didn't yet) and then I did another one last year.

If you're not familiar, a topical blend works like this: I give you a list of Magic-related topics and a list of non-Magic topics. Your job is to vote on which you like the most. Then, I take the one on each side that received the most votes and write an article that somehow includes and interweaves both of them.

And, of course, since this is a deck-building column, naturally all of the Magic topics will relate to strategy and deck building. I'm going to take the Top 5 from each category last year (skipping "Internet memes," which is an article I just did, then throw five new ones in each category, and we'll see what happens!

Ready to vote? Here are your options!

 Magic Topics  
Building Control Decks
Decks I Qualified With
Famous Magic Advice
Fighting the Metagame
Improving Decks through Playtesting
Mana Curves
My Favorite Decks of All Time
Stories/Lessons from My PTQ Days
 Non-Magic Topics  
Adventures around the World
Being Homeschooled
Creating/Planning Unique Parties
Creative Writing
Dealing with Losing
Doctor Who
Favorite Movie/TV Scenes
My Favorite Quotes
My Life in College
Talking with Strangers

This is so exciting! I love writing topical blends, and can't wait to see how this one turns out. One thing is for sure: you'll want to tune back in two weeks from now!

In the meantime, if you have any thoughts or comments on this article, I'd love to hear them. Feel free to post in the forums, send me a tweet, or ask your question on my Tumblr, and I'll definitely read it.

I'll be back next week when I take a look at Modern. Talk with you then!


Gavin Verhey
Gavin Verhey
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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.

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