Since the parameters of Brawl synchronize decks to a Standard environment, expanding Brawl historically into Eternal Brawl gives an opportunity to explore nostalgia for old Standard decks cheaper and in multiplayer. Nostalgic theme decks in Commander are hampered as a group by competing against 25 years of good stuff; Eternal Brawl restricts everyone to two years of good stuff, making deck homages on par with the rest of the format.
Today’s homage is one that probably divides people on good or bad nostalgia: Black Devotion.
Black Devotion in Standard
Although Black Devotion Top 8’d Pro Tour Theros, Owen Turtenwald’s version when Born of the Gods came out might be better known:
4 Desecration Demon
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
4 Lifebane Zombie
4 Pack Rat
4 Underworld Connections
4 Hero’s Downfall
4 Devour Flesh
1 Bile Blight
1 Ultimate Price
2 Erebos, God of the Dead
1 Pithing Needle
1 Read the Bones
4 Doom Blade
2 Dark Betrayal
1 Bile Blight
The signature card from this deck is Gray Merchant of Asphodel (better known as “Gary”). Thoughtseize and Mutavault have seen more tournament play over the years, but Gary took up a thriving multiplayer career when his Standard days were done. His ability to drain each opponent and send his controller’s life total skyward was so good that Wizards of the Coast stopped making drain effects that swingy.
Gary has been a finishing blow in Standard and Commander for years; he will have no problem dealing with the 30 life of multiplayer Brawl. The biggest questions to go with it are:
– Which Commander should lead him?
– Do the other cards from Standard Black Devotion port well to Eternal Brawl?
– What other cards should go in?
Which Commander should lead the way?
The Standard format for this Eternal Brawl deck has been set by the deck itself: Return to Ravnica block/Theros block/Magic 2014/Magic 2015, when that format contained the most cards. Using the Eternal Brawl format legend search, there are a few options:
An obvious choice for Commander and fine in Brawl, but I think we can do better. Thirty life is very different from 40 in terms of drawing loads of cards, and drawing cards by itself doesn’t punch through a ground stall. A 5/7 indestructible can punch through a ground stall, but not as well as evasion (see Thassa, God of the Sea). If you want this deck to feel like mini-Commander, Erebos is for you.
Certainly a quality finisher, but it’s also a massive mana investment that seems easily disrupted. With only Keepsake Gorgon and Archetype of Finality available as Gorgon support, it’s a clunkier deck than I want to build.
King Macar has the opposite problem of Hythonia: too many small synergy pieces to come together well in the late game.
Like Erebos, Liliana has card advantage. Liliana‘s middle ability is secretly two abilities, both of which can be useful. The emblem probably doesn’t matter much here (there’s no Exsanguinate or Torment of Hailfire in the format), but it’s nice.
Classic, and that ultimate is a game-winner, but the weak +1 has routinely put me off her in every multiplayer format.
Enticingly designed for multiplayer and checks off all the evasion aspects you want in a threat. The big question is how much opponents search their libraries, and the answer seems certain to be “less than in Commander.” Ob Nixilis is probably good enough without that, but as with quality artifact removal, the utility ubiquity isn’t present here.
I chose Liliana of the Dark Realms, who boasts Erebos’s best qualities plus the opportunity to turn creatures lethal. Erebos and Ob Nixilis would have been good, too, but Liliana played best into my understanding of how a Brawl game develops. Plus, it’s inherently more interesting to leverage building around a Planeswalker Commander – that’s a new set of lessons to learn.
How does the Standard version port over?
Gray Merchant of Asphodel is a known powerhouse, but Black Devotion was designed to win duels. How does everything else look?
It’s a luxury item: sometimes you’ll swing for two after a sweeper, but most of the time you won’t care that you have this.
The literal opposite of a multiplayer card.
Good if you know you’re always playing large multiplayer games; weak otherwise.
This one seems like an auto-include in a Devotion deck, but it doesn’t work here. Without four Pack Rats (and four Mutavaults) to pump each other, Pack Rat loses a lot; as a result, the cards you’d discard in this deck are better off cast.
I didn’t include this one because I need card draw to curve into Liliana of the Dark Realms, not give me options afterward. With a different Commander, Underworld Connections would be a slam dunk, but I don’t like it for this build.
Thoughtseize and Duress
Designed for duels.
With Planeswalker Commanders running rampant in the format, it’s the best spot removal available. Welcome in!
There are better early-curve options for multiplayer.
Bile Blight and Ultimate Price
Narrower than I would like.
Hits more things than the previous two cards. In it goes!
Just because I don’t favor Erebos as the Commander doesn’t mean I don’t want access to it. It doesn’t break a ground stall, but it’s great at tilting the ground stall in your favor.
It’s no Sorcerous Spyglass, for being both weaker and not banned. The effect is fine, but not essential.
This is the card draw I want over Underworld Connections. With Liliana as a Commander, getting four Swamps by turn four means a fifth Swamp definitely is coming off the +1, so Read the Bones is the right call.
Mirror matches seem unlikely.
What other cards should go in?
Other than Gary, I’m only keeping four cards from the Standard list. That’s not encouraging at all! But when you get to up the curve a bit, when you’re including more ways to keep opponents off you, and when you’re including two more sets than were available to Owen Turtenwald, the cards may change, but the spirit of the deck remains the same. To wit:
LILIANA OF THE DARK REALMS – ETERNAL BRAWL
Return to Ravnica/Theros blocks, Magic 2014, Magic 2015
1 Liliana of the Dark Realms
1 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
1 Festering Newt
1 Pharika’s Chosen
1 Typhoid Rats
1 Baleful Eidolon
1 Black Cat
1 Wight of Precinct Six
1 Herald of Torment
1 Grim Guardian
1 Mogis’s Marauder
1 Burnished Hart
1 Erebos, God of the Dead
1 Crypt Ghast
1 Squelching Leeches
1 Bogbrew Witch
1 Paragon of Open Graves
1 Akroan Horse
1 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
1 Ogre Slumlord
1 Ob Nixilis, Unshackled
1 Marshmist Titan
1 Lord of the Void
1 Sepulchral Primordial
1 Abhorrent Overlord
1 Bubbling Cauldron
1 Whip of Erebos
1 Dictate of Erebos
1 Ring of Three Wishes
1 Sign in Blood
1 Read the Bones
1 In Garruk’s Wake
1 Rise of the Dark Realms
1 Doom Blade
1 Hero’s Downfall
If Standard were a multiplayer format, we’d have seen Black Devotion look something like this. The early plan is to deploy small deathtouchers, Festering Newt, Black Cat, and Grim Guardian to ward off attacks while building devotion. Building around a Planeswalker Commander requires enough defensive creatures to protect it, and while Black isn’t overflowing with options, deathtouchers are enough. Akroan Horse can join the party in the midgame to ensure chump blockers; this deck isn’t winning on the ground, anyway, so it’s no threat to the Horse‘s well-being.
Black in this era had great mana acceleration available, from Liliana to Nykthos to Crypt Ghast, and they allow this deck to have a higher curve than other Brawl decks. There isn’t a Black Sun’s Zenith to pour the mana into, but well-established multiplayer finishers like Lord of the Void, Sepulchral Primordial, Abhorrent Overlord, In Garruk’s Wake, and Rise of the Dark Realms are available, while Ring of Three Wishes is too slow for almost every Brawl deck except this one. (If it’s too slow for you, Underworld Connections should take its place.)
Besides the finishers, several cards you’ve likely seen in Commander do good work here. Ogre Slumlord provides blockers and gives us back the Rat subtheme we lost when we excluded Pack Rat. Dictate of Erebos and Nighthowler have been pals ever since release. Whip of Erebos played a major part in Standard with Obzedat, Ghost Council; here, it keeps the life total high and allows two uses of Gary. Corrupt sees plenty of Commander play, but it’s only in less than ten percent of the decks running Cabal Coffers. Given how many reprints it’s had and the nature of Brawl games, you want Corrupt in every Mono-Black deck as a win condition.
As for breaking ground stalls – vital to winning any Brawl game – there are a few options. Mogis’s Marauder is much better here than in Commander since intimidate is better; it’s also a Black devotion card to preserve flavor. But the biggest thing is that Liliana herself circumvents ground stalls by giving +X/+X to a creature with flying or intimidate. Plus, you may even be able to use the ability twice in one turn! If you’ve got Nykthos or Crypt Ghast or Liliana‘s emblem, you can cast Liliana, -3 for +X/+X, send her back to the Command Zone, then recast her for a second +X/+X. Giving separate Harpy tokens from Abhorrent Overlord +11/+11 makes opponents’ lives both miserable and short.
If you sort Scryfall search results by EDHREC rank, you get a good sense of other options for this or any other deck. Depending on what you had in your collection or what you liked better, Sanguine Bond, Grave Betrayal, Soul of New Phyrexia, Pontiff of Blight, Necropolis Regent, Fate Unraveler, and Colossus of Akros all work well in this shell. Brawl and Eternal Brawl decks have a confined card pool, but they still have some choices on curve and support spells and style of win, usually with about two or three directions for each choice.
If you have a favorite Standard deck from a bygone era, it’s possible that it’s too synergy-based to be ported to Eternal Brawl, but it’s also possible that you can convert its style into a multiplayer powerhouse. Due to the card pool restriction, Eternal Brawl’s options for that kind of nostalgia are much stronger than Commander’s, and Mono-Black has been a classic Standard and Commander archetype for years. It’s fun to see the Standard and Commander strains of Mono-Black meet here, and I bet you’d have fun with it, too.
Brandon Isleib plays a lot of Commander and Brawl and loves finding the intersection of unusual and effective plays. He worked for Wizards of the Coast in 2014, he has put flavor text on a few cards, and he’s partly responsible for “create” being the word for cards making tokens. He is a legislation editor for the city of Seattle, he has written a baseball book, and he is proficient at making his bio sound more impressive than it is.