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Budget Magic / Meme or Dream? $1 Mono-Black Devotion (Pioneer)

This week, we have a special Budget Magic / Meme or Dream? crossover episode! A few days ago, there was a small Pioneer tournament on Magic Online. Making it all the way to the finals was a version of Mono-Black Devotion that costs just $1 on Magic Online (and just $36 in paper). Is it really possible that a $1 deck can actually be competitive on Magic Online in Pioneer? We're going to take the list through a league and find out; then, we'll talk about some possibilities for upgrading the archetype if you have a bit more money to spend. Is $1 Mono-Black Devotion a Meme or a Dream? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: $1 Mono-Black Devotion

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The Deck

Mono-Black Devotion is a midrange deck. Our main goal is to get a bunch of black mana symbols on the battlefield and then use Gray Merchant of Asphodel to drain our opponent out of the game. But we do have some other interesting synergies and a surprising amount of direct damage for a mono-black deck to help us finish our opponent off without attacking.

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Gray Merchant of Asphodel is—by far—the most important card in our deck. Thanks to a bunch of cards with heavy black mana costs, it's possible that by the time we're casting Gary on Turn 5, we're draining our opponent for something like 10 life while also massively buffering our own life total. Against slower midrange and control decks, Gray Merchant of Asphodel gives us a finisher that can close out the game without attacking (two copies is almost always lethal), while against aggro, the lifegain from Gary's enters-the-battlefield trigger is essential in keeping us alive and stabilizing the board.

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Speaking of direct damage, we also have a few other cards that can help us burn our opponent out of the game. Sanctum of Stone Fangs is just a one-of and looks pretty strange, as the only Shrine in our deck. But it does add a black mana symbol to the battlefield to support Gray Merchant of Asphodel and drains for one each turn, which slowly adds up. Underworld Dreams might be my favorite card in the deck. Without extra help, it pings our opponent for one each turn as they draw a card, but it can be super punishing against Prowess or control decks that are built around chaining together cheap cantrips and drawing extra cards. We also played against Possibility Storm Combo, where Underworld Dreams essentially shuts down the entire combo since if our opponent resolves Enter the Infinite, they'll die to Underworld Dreams pings. More importantly, our deck has a way to power up Underworld Dreams in Sign in Blood. While we often use the sorcery as card draw, it can target any player, making it a two-damage burn spell by itself. But if we have an Underworld Dreams on the battlefield, a single Sign in Blood can hit our opponent for four—two from Sign in Blood itself and two more from Underworld Dreams. While you don't want to target the opponent with Sign in Blood in the early game, it is a legitimate finisher for our deck if we can get our opponent low enough on life.

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Creature-wise, our main goal is to add as many black mana symbols to the battlefield as possible. Gifted Aetherborn and Vampire of the Dire Moon offer some lifegain against aggro and are surprisingly effective against various mono-green and Gruul-style stompy decks with big creatures because deathtouch allows us to trade up, sort of turning both Gifted Aetherborn and Vampire of the Dire Moon into weird removal spells that sit out on the battlefield.

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Kitesail Freebooter is especially helpful against combo and control, giving us a Duress that can attack for one in the air and also adding a black mana symbol to the battlefield. Meanwhile, Dusk Legion Zealot keeps us churning through our deck to find our most important cards, like Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Underworld Dreams, while also offering a black mana symbol and a decent chump blocker.

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I love Nightveil Specter, but after playing it again, it was pretty obvious that it was printed nearly 10 years ago. The upside of Nightveil Specter is that it adds three black mana symbols to the battlefield, making it one of our best support cards for Gray Merchant of Asphodel. It's also pretty resilient to popular Pioneer removal, which often deals two damage or can't easily hit three-drops, like Fatal Push. Most importantly, its combat-damage trigger essentially draws us an extra card (from our opponent's deck) each turn. But this is where the age of Nightveil Specter starts to show. Unlike more recent versions that steal a card from the opponent's deck, Nightveil Specter doesn't fix our mana by allowing us to cast the cards it exiles with mana of any color. As we found out in our matches, this means that unless we're up against another black-based deck, Nightveil Specter doesn't really draw us an extra card each turn—at least, not right away. Instead, we need to hope that we exile a land or two from our opponent's deck first so we can have access to our opponent's colors of mana; then, we can start casting the non-land cards that we hit with Nightveil Specter. All of this is to say that Nightveil Specter is good in our deck, but it's less good than I remember because it's surprisingly hard to cast the cards that it exiles in a lot of matchups.

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Otherwise, we have Heartless Act for removal, and that is essentially the deck. While it is obvious that some of the choices are designed to keep the cost of the deck as low as possible, it also looks pretty functional, with a reasonable curve and some strange but potentially powerful payoffs to close out the game.


Let's start with the bad news: we didn't win a match in our league. Obviously, this isn't ideal. Even with the huge upside of the deck costing just $1 on Magic Online, you still want to win on occasion. However, if you dig deeper into our matches, the deck was better than its record would suggest. It really should have beat Izzet Prowess, but our opponent top-decked lethal the turn before we would have won the match. And outside of our match against control, all of our matches were close and went three games. While I don't think $1 Mono-Black Devotion is a threat to consistently go 5-0 in leagues or win FNMs, I do think that it will win more than it did in our league, and going 2-3 or 3-2 across five matches isn't a stretch (although the floor is clearly 0-5, while it's hard for me to imagine the deck going 5-0 unless it gets super lucky). 

To me, this suggests that the current build of the deck is more of a casual deck than a true competitive option for Pioneer. However, considering how cheap the deck is, being a casual option to play for fun isn't really a bad thing. A deck that's good enough to play in casual matches on MTGO or on your kitchen table, or maybe to take to a not-super-spikey FNM, that is dirt cheap still has value. 

The other upside is that the deck has a ton of upgrade potential. While Mono-Black Devotion isn't a tier Pioneer archetype by any stretch, adding cards like Castle Locthwain (the single biggest addition you can make, in my opinion), Thoughtseize, and Fatal Push would go a long way toward upping the deck's power. Knight of the Ebon Legion could replace Vampire of the Dire Moon, which felt a bit underpowered despite the combo of lifelink and deathtouch. 

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Here is what I would consider to be a mid-priced upgrade to the deck. The total cost rises to $68 in paper and $24 on Magic Online, but we get some hugely powerful additions, with Knight of the Ebon Legion improving our one-drop slot, Castle Locthwain offering card draw in our mana base, Ayara, First of Locthwain and Underworld Connections upping our devotion while also offering card advantage, and a full playset of Murderous Rider, which is perfect for the deck as a removal spell that eventually adds two black mana symbols to the battlefield.

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Finally, our fully powered upgrade jumps to $236 in paper and $83 on Magic Online with the addition of Thoughtseize, Liliana, the Last Hope, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, and Leyline of the Void in the sideboard. As you can see, it's pretty easy to start with the $36 / $1 version of the deck and incrementally improve it until you have something that looks really powerful!


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

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