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Budget Magic: $98 (27 tix) Obliterator Devotion (Modern)


Muraho, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! This week, we're heading to Modern to play a card that I've wanted to play for a long time but never could because it was far too expensive for the budget: Phyrexian Obliterator! Thanks to the Masters 25 reprinting, the four-drop is down to almost $16, after being up near $40 not long ago, suddenly making it an option for Budget Magic. When you combine the newly cheap Phyrexian Obliterator with the freshly printed Dread Shade, Mono-Black Devotion suddenly has a ton of new toys in Modern! The plan of our deck—Obliterator Devotion—is pretty simple: we curve out with strong black creatures, hit for huge chunks of damage with Dread Shade and Phyrexian Obliterator, and then finish off our opponent with the massive draining power of Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Can the combo of Phyrexian Obliterator and Dread Shade make Mono-Black Devotion a legitimate budget option for Modern? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck! 

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Budget Magic: Obliterator Devotion (Modern)

The Deck

Obliterator Devotion is basically a midrange deck but with a handful of weird choices to help support the devotion sub-theme. The primary plan of the deck is simple: curve out with powerful creatures, many of which have two or three black mana symbols; get in as much damage as possible with our creatures; and then use Gray Merchant of Asphodel as a huge burn spell to close out the game. Probably the easiest way to break down the deck is to walk up the creature curve from two mana to five mana, and then talk about the utility spells that round out the list.

Two-Drops

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We start off with two of the stranger cards in our deck: Kitesail Freebooter and Brain Maggot. While both cards are fairly similar, offering two-drops with relatively small bodies that can steal a card from our opponent's hand when they enter the battlefield, there are actually two reasons why these cards are in our deck. First, they are essentially our fragile but budget-friendly versions of Duress and Thoughtseize, allowing us to stay alive against combo and resolve our spells against control, but without spending a huge chunk of our budget on Inquisition of Kozilek or Thoughtseize proper. Second, they come with additional upside over spell-based discard because they add a black mana symbol to the battlefield to up our devotion count. While both are great against removal-light combo decks, they are often more of a temporary fix than a permanent solution against control because our opponent will eventually draw a removal spell to get their card back from exile. Despite this downside, both are very good in our deck and essential to giving us a chance in our worst matchups (against the unfair combo decks of the Modern format).

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Gifted Aetherborn is basically the opposite of Brain Maggot and Kitesail Freebooter, being at its best against aggro decks and various creature-based midrange decks like Jund or Death's Shadow while being pretty bad against control and combo. Apart from adding two black mana symbols to the battlefield to up our devotion, the combination of lifelink and deathtouch makes Gifted Aetherborn one of our best cards against Burn (where our opponent usually needs to spend a burn spell to kill it so we don't gain life, saving us some damage) and against anything with big creatures, where deathtouch allows us to stonewall Eldrazi, Tarmogoyf, and Death's Shadow with ease. 

Three-Drops

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The main criteria for being a three-drop in Obliterator Devotion is having three black mana symbols to up our devotion to black, but thankfully, both of our three-drops are powerful in their own right. Dread Shade might look strange in Modern, but it's actually one of the most powerful creatures in our deck, especially in the late game, where it gives us a mana dump if we run out of action, since we can swing in and spend our turn pumping Dread Shade to get in a massive chunk of damage. The one big downside of Dread Shade is that it does die to Lightning Bolt if we don't leave up a mana to pump, and while it isn't worth playing off-curve all of the time just to protect Dread Shade, it is worth leaving up a mana, if possible, especially if you expect the opponent is playing a Lightning Bolt deck. 

Meanwhile, Nightveil Specter is our card-advantage three-drop, getting in for flying damage and stealing the top card of the opponent's deck. While this is sometimes awkward because we need the right colors of mana to cast the cards that Nightveil Specter steals, having a couple of off-color borderposts helps; plus, we can play our opponent's lands that we exile with Nightveil Specter. Together, our two three-drops help make sure that we are adding three black mana symbols to the battlefield on Turn 3 three as consistently as possible!

Four-Drop

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Phyrexian Obliterator is a pretty absurd Magic card on a lot of levels. While it doesn't seem much play in Modern, mostly because the quad-black mana cost is challenging for many decks, costing four black mana is actually an upside rather than a curse in our deck. Plus, we have a mono-Swamp mana base, so casting Phyrexian Obliterator on time is almost never an issue. Once we get Phyrexian Obliterator on the battlefield, it often plays like a 5/5 unblockable, since if our opponent decides to block it, they have to sacrifice a bunch of their permanents, which means our opponent either needs a hard removal spell like Path to Exile or Terminate, or else Phyrexian Obliterator wins the game all by itself in just a few turns. On the other hand, if things are going poorly, we can leave back Phyrexian Obliterator on defense, making it almost impossible for our opponent to attack on the ground. This allows us to stall out the game for a few turns while we build up our black mana symbols and eventually win with a huge Gray Merchant of Asphodel. All around, Phyrexian Obliterator is the perfect four-drop for the deck and one of our best creatures in whether we are looking to beat down or play defense. 

Five-Drop

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Gray Merchant of Asphodel is our devotion payoff, giving us a way to win the game out of nowhere for just five mana. If you look at the curve of our deck, something as simple as Gifted Aetherborn on Turn 2 into Nightveil Specter or Dread Shade on Turn 3 into Phyrexian Obliterator on Turn 4 means that Gray Merchant of Asphodel will drain for 11 when it enters the battlefield, which is often enough to win the game on the spot. Against aggro, the lifegain makes it extremely hard for our opponent to actually kill us, and if our main plan is to drain our opponent out of the game, we can always wait and add more black mana symbols to the battlefield before casting Gray Merchant of Asphodel to make sure that the drain trigger is as lethal as possible. 

More importantly, having a way to win the game without attacking is extremely valuable in some matchups. For example, Ensnaring Bridge is normally a nightmare for mono-black creature decks, since they have no way to remove the artifact from the battlefield, but in our deck, Gray Merchant of Asphodel solves this problem all by itself. The same is true of matches where the board gets gummed up with blockers, making it hard to win by attacking—Gray Merchant of Asphodel comes down and closes out the game, whether we can attack or not. Basically, apart from the namesake Phyrexian Obliterator itself, Gray Merchant of Asphodel is the reason to play Obliterator Devotion and the payoff for all of our weird card choices designed to add black mana symbols to the battlefield.

Other Stuff

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Underworld Connections is basically our budget-friendly version of Phyrexian Arena, keeping us drawing through our deck to find our threats and removal. While enchanting a land is a downside, both because it essentially costs us a mana to activate Underworld Connections each turn (since we need to tap the land to draw a card) and because we can get blown out by something like Ghost Quarter or a land-destruction spell like Stone Rain, having the ability to draw an extra card each turn more than makes up for the cost. Oh yeah, and Underworld Connections also adds two more black mana symbols to the battlefield to maximize our Gray Merchant of Asphodel drain.

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For removal, we have six two-mana instants. Victim of Night is the least conditional two-mana black removal spell in Modern, since there aren't many Vampires, Werewolves, or Zombies running around in the format. While it doesn't see a ton of play thanks to its double black mana cost, the fact that we have a mono-Swamp mana base means having double black on Turn 2 is never an issue. Meanwhile, Go for the Throat is basically just copies five and six of Victim of Night. While it doesn't line up well with Affinity, Hollow One, or some Tron decks with lots of artifact creatures, it does kill most of the important creatures in the format.

The Mana

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While most of our mana base is pretty straightforward, featuring 18 Swamps, we do have a bit of spice here as well, with three copies of Veinfire Borderpost and three Mistvein Borderpost. The way to thik of the borderposts in this deck is as lands that enter the battlefield tapped and are risky (because they can be blown up by artifact destruction) but add devotion to power up our Gray Merchant of Asphodel. One of the reasons why the borderposts work especially well in this build is because we have zero one-mana plays. Six borderposts means we should have an average of one in our opening hand, with Turn 1 being the perfect window to play a Swamp, pick up the Swamp to play a borderpost with its alternate casting cost, and still curve out normally starting on Turn 2. Plus, as I mentioned before, in some matchups, adding red or blue mana is a nice bonus when it comes to casting the cards that we exile from our opponent's deck with Nightveil Specter

Wrap-Up

First off, as far as the record, things were a bit complicated this week. While we finished our video matches 4-1, there were actually two other matches that didn't make it onto the video—a rematch against Burn that we lost and a match against GB Infect that we won—but I accidentally deleted the file before I could get it edited, so our overall record is a very solid 5-2. While Obliterator Devotion looks a bit weird on paper, it actually played pretty well: the combination of good creatures, a bit of disruption, and a powerful top end to finish the game with Phyrexian Obliterator and Gray Merchant of Asphodel is apparently enough to beat a lot of Modern decks.

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Perhaps the surprise breakout stars of the deck were Brain Maggot and Kitesail Freebooter in the two-drop slot, which did a great job of keeping us in games against combo and control, or just slowing the opponent down enough that our late game could get online. This being said, the reason to play Obliterator Devotion is the combo of Phyrexian Obliterator and Gray Merchant of Asphodel. While both cards can be a tiny bit slow against the fastest decks in Modern, with the help of Brain Maggot and Kitesail Freebooter to slow things down, we often survive long enough to get down our four- and five-mana plays. Once we get to the point of playing Phyrexian Obliterators and Gray Merchant of Asphodel, it feels like we pretty much can't lose against all of the creature and aggro decks of the format. 

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As far as budget-friendly upgrades to Obliterator Devotion, this is a tough one. There are a lot of good additions to the deck, with things like Phyrexian Arena over Underworld Connections (a strict upgrade), Fatal Push, planeswalkers like Liliana, the Last Hope or Liliana of the Veil, and the most powerful one-mana discard that black has to offer in Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek, but none of these cards actually fit in under the budget. While any or all of these cards would represent upgrades to the deck, there isn't really much to change if the goal is to keep the deck in the budget range. The one thing to consider would be dropping the borderposts. We were completely unpunished for playing them in our matches, but if you find people bringing in artifact hate against you, it might be better to drop them for Swamps—it likely depends on your local meta.

Overall, Obliterator Devotion felt great. The power level is high; it has some amount of game against aggro, combo, and control; and it offers a fast way to close out games once we stabilize. It's certainly good enough to have some FNM-level success as is, and with some upgrades, it could be even more competitive, perhaps good enough to compete with the top tiers of the format at the Grand Prix or SCG level. If you're a fan of Mono-Black decks and like draining opponents out of the game for huge chunks of damage, it just might be the budget Modern deck for you!

When it comes to building an ultra-budget version of Obliterator Devotion, there's one massive problem: a playset of Phyrexian Obliterator by itself is over $60, and all of the other cards in the deck are incredibly cheap. As such, the only way to make an ultra-budget build is to start cutting copies of Phyrexian Obliterator. Unfortunately, there isn't really a good substitute in the Modern format, so in the end, we have an odd split of four-drops. We manage to keep one copy of Phyrexian Obliterator in the deck, along with one Erebos's Titan (which has decent stats and three black mana symbols, but it's ability isn't especially relevant in Modern), one Ravenous Chupacabra (which only has two black mana symbols but is a fine removal option), and one Whip of Erebos (which is slow but powerful against aggro or control, if the game goes long enough that we get to start reanimating things). The end result is that the four-drop slot is less powerful and less consistent, but if you're looking to pinch pennies, this is a fine starting point for the kitchen table. It's also worth mentioning that all of the four-drops feel relatively equal (although worse than Phyrexian Obliterator), so feel free to mix and match as you see fit. Just keep an eye toward having as many black mana symbols as possible for Gray Merchant of Asphodel.

The non-budget build of Obliterator Devotion gets a bunch of upgrades, although the basic idea of the deck remains the same. Perhaps the most notable change is that we drop the borderposts for normal lands. The biggest reason for this change is because the non-budget build actually has one-mana plays in Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek, so taking off a turn to play a borderpost—the equivalent of a tapped land—is extremely painful. Otherwise, we cut Nightveil Specter for two Liliana the Last Hope and two Liliana of the Veil, which leaves us with slightly fewer black mana symbols but more power overall. We also get Phyrexian Arena over Underworld Connections, which is essentially a strict upgrade, since we no longer have to pay mana to draw cards and don't get blown out by Ghost Quarter. We also add in some fetch lands, which serve two purposes. First, they allow us to trigger revolt for Fatal Push (which we add for more early-game removal). Second, if we toss in a couple of Blood Crypt, they allow us to play Blood Moon in the sideboard, as a way to fight Tron and pick up random free wins against greedy decks. Finally, speaking of the sideboard, we get upgrades there as well, with Relic of Progenitus and Surgical Extraction replacing Tormod's Crypt as graveyard hate and better removal, with Damnation joining our sweeper suite. All in all, while these changes add a ton to the budget, they also represent a big boost of power. The end result is a deck that looks surprisingly competitive!

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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